Grains of Paradise are a wonderful peppery, lemony spice with a pleasant and complex heat. It grows wild in African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia.

The plant, Aframomum melegueta, is a low shrub that produces pods the size of figs, each containing 60 to 100 seeds, or grains. Grains of Paradise are also called guinea pepper, atare, alligator pepper and melegueta pepper (not to be confused with pimenta malagueta, a Brazilian chili of the same name, usually preserved in oil). But the spice is not a relative of the Piper nigrum family, the source of black and white peppercorns. Experts disagree about it and pinch other and say terrible things about each other behind their various backs, though it is most often linked to the cardamom family. (You really don't want to get spice experts shirty with you. You can't imagine how much mileage they can get out of it. They have no lives at all. It's really quite sad.) Basically, no one knows much about it. But Grains of Paradise taste very very nice.

In West Africa, many spices are ground and combined in complex blends. Grains of paradise are mixed with coriander, cinnamon, dried chilies and cloves as a condiment for grilled lamb, chicken, fish, pumpkin and okra, or added to soups, stews and pickling mixtures. They also turns up in raz al hanout, the spice mixture of Morocco.

Grains of Paradise can be cracked in a pepper mill or crushed in a mortar pestle.

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