Grains Of Paradise: An African Spice With A European History

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Grains of paradise seeds made their way to the west via caravan routes across the Sahara. These seeds were once a popular spice in Europe, and Elizabeth I was known to be particularly fond of them. They are not as well known in the west these days. Once used as a substitute for scarce and expensive black pepper, they eventually fell of favor as black pepper became more widely available. Even so, it was still a common ingredient in English recipes up until the 19th century.

Today, the seeds come from the Grain Coast of West Africa and are the reason for that region’s name. Ghana, Liberia and Ivory Coast are all producers but most of the world’s grains of paradise seeds come from Ghana.

Flavor profile of grains of paradise

The aroma of grains of paradise has been likened to a mixture of black pepper, lemon zest and cardamom. When you bite into them, they deliver a mild heat similar to that provided by black pepper but not as harsh. On the tongue, they provide a flavor that has strong notes of cloves and cinnamon against a mild cardamom background. The heat from grains of paradise tends to stick around but is not uncomfortable.

Health benefits of grains of paradise

Grains of paradise contain various compounds important for health, such as:

  • Essential oils: Grains of paradise seeds contain the essential oils gingerol, shogaol, and paradol. Gingerol is also the main active compound in ginger. It has powerful antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that shogaol inhibits breast cancer cells in addition to stimulating saliva and bile production. An extract from grains of paradise containing paradol was shown to increase metabolic rate.
  • Minerals: Grains of paradise seeds are a good source of minerals like calcium, iron, and manganese. In 100g of the seeds, you can get almost half of your daily recommended amount of calcium along with 28.6 mg of iron, which is more than the daily recommended amount of that mineral. You will also get more than 5 mg of manganese, which is the ideal daily amount.
  • Vitamins: Grains of paradise seeds contain vitamin A along with vitamin B-6, vitamin C and vitamin E. Vitamin A is important for maintaining teeth and bones as well as the immune system. Vitamin B-6 is beneficial for the immune system and for skin health among a range of other health needs. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that your body uses in the synthesis of collagen, which makes blood vessels strong. Vitamin E is yet another antioxidant and can help to fight heart disease.

Grains of paradise can help with conditions like:

  • Stomach irritation: In addition to being a carminative, grains of paradise can help to ease vomiting and intestinal issues during pregnancy. It is also a treatment for heartburn and indigestion.
  • Low libido: Grains of paradise has been shown to enhance libido in male rats. It is used in West Africa as a libido enhancer.
  • Inflammation: Grains of paradise may be effective for treating inflammatory diseases like heart disease and arthritis.

Common uses of grains of paradise

You can use grains of paradise in the same way that black pepper is used, either whole or ground. You can grind it to season your steak or your fish. It is a major part of the Moroccan spice blend known as ras el hanout. In addition, the seeds are used to flavor some beers like Sam Adams’ Summer Ale. Scandinavians use grains of paradise seeds as a flavoring for aquavit.