Afrramomum melegueta, or grains of paradise, is a popular West African Spice that has a strong peppery flavor. The spice, also known as Guinea pepper or alligator pepper, is obtained from the dried seeds of Aframomum melegueta, which is a species of ginger. Although it is rarely used in western cuisine today, it was a very popular replacement for pepper when true black pepper was scarce during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. It is still used quiet regularly in western and northern African cuisine.
Like most spices, grains of paradise are reputed to aid with digestion. Wikipedia cites that grains of paradise are used as an element of black magic in Caribbean voodoo. The spice does make an appearance in the west as an flavoring for some gins and summer beers. According to The Spice House, it was believed that the spice only grew in the paradise of Eden, and the seeds were collected by men as they floated in a river downstream from Eden, hence the name, Grains of Paradise.
When used in cooking, it is often used as a more pungent replacement for pepper with traces of cardamom, often used liberally on green vegetables or meats. The Spice House also recommends mixing Grains of Paradise with regular peppercorns in a pepper grinder for an added depth of flavor. As Ammana Hessler put it in her 2000 New York Times article on the spice, grains of paradise are pretty special stuff and “what peppercorns only dream of being.” Hessler’s article includes an excellent and comprehensive tasting note on the spice.
“The flavor of grains of paradise releases a billowing aroma, with a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper, at the back of the mouth…with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, with an oiliness similar to nuts.”