Grains of Paradise come from West Africa, where they grow on a leafy plant and are easily harvested. The name comes from Medieval spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price â€“ it was claimed that these peppery seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Although Grains of Paradise are now rare and expensive, they used to be used as a cheaper substitute for black pepper. They have a zesty flavor reminiscent of pepper, with hints of flowers, coriander and cardamom.
Alton Brown seems to favor these for Okra, as seen on his recent show â€œOkraphobiaâ€, where he makes okra and tomatoes with grains of paradise. We LOVE them mixed with Tellicherry black pepper, put in a pepper grinder and then used to encrust steaks as slight variation on steak au poivre. Grind over any dish where you would normally just grind straight black pepper to add a wonderful shake-up-your-table-condiments twist!
A New York Times article written by Amanda Hesser has popularized grains of paradise. She wrote, â€œI put a few between my teeth and crunched. They cracked like coriander releasing a billowing aroma, and then a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper at the back of my mouth. The taste changes in a second. The heat lingered. But the spice flavor was pleasantly tempered, ripe with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, and with the kind of oiliness you get from nuts. They were entirely different from black peppercorns and in my mind, incomparably better.â€