The plant has rhizomes underground, and above ground can grow up to 3 feet (1 metre) tall, with narrow reedish leaves, 10 inches (25 cm) long x 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) wide. The flowers are beautiful, looking like lilies. Both the rhizomes and the flowers smell a bit like ginger.
The plant takes about 12 days to start growing from seed. It will be ready for first harvest about 10 months after that, and will be productive for about 10 years.
The seeds grow inside pods that are red, with white jelly-like pulp inside them. The pods are ready to harvest when they ripen from green to red. Only then will the seeds have developed their taste. The pods are collected, and dried in the sun for about a week. When dried, the pods are about 2 to 2 3/4 inches (5 to 7 cm ) long by 1 1/4 inches (3 1/4 cm) wide.
Each pod will have from 1,200 to 2,000 dull seeds in it. Each seed is about 3 mm wide. The shape is somewhat like that of cardamom seed, of which Grains of Paradise is a distant relative. The seeds are reddish-brown outside, pale grey inside. When ground, the powder from the seeds is pale grey.
The taste of Grains of Paradise is not as strong as that of black pepper, but it is more subtle and more complex. It is not as sharp tasting, have an undertone of cardamom, a bitter aftertaste, and also a bit of camphor to it, which some people don’t like.
Ghana is the largest exporter of Grains of Paradise seed, though it is not really used outside Africa anymore. Some older recipes, such as those for sausages, may still call for the spice. And, it is used by the Samuel Adams brewing company in Boston in making its “Summer Ale.”
In the Mediterranean area, it is mostly just used in Ras El Hanout.
Grains of Paradise are often confused in English as in other languages with “Negro Pepper.” It is not, though, the same.
Grind before using. Add towards the end of cooking.
Pepper; 2 parts black pepper plus 1 part allspice OR black pepper with a bit of ground ginger.
Grains of Paradise are native to West Africa.
The spice was popular in the Middle Ages, first as a substitute for pepper, and then later to flavour batches of beer with.
Many writers say that when Grains of Paradise first arrived in Lisbon in 1460, as a substitute for black pepper, they caused the Portuguese stock market to crash. There was, though, no stock market in Lisbon until 1769, so this is not completely true. What did happen is that the price of pepper on the open market collapsed, and many of those who had hoarded it at high prices were financially ruined.
The same shipment also brought slaves from West Africa.
A few years later, in 1482, the Portuguese had a man named Diogo d’Azambuja build the fortress of Sao Jorge da Mina in the Gold Coast to protect both the slave trade and the trade in Grains of Paradise.
Another wrinkle to the “first arrived in Lisbon” story is that it implies “first arrived in Europe.” Grains of Paradise, however, had been in Europe long before the Portuguese brought them, being brought in through trade with the Arabs. In fact, in the 1200s, they sold for about half the price of peppercorns.
One of the synonyms for the spice is “Malegueta Pepper” (note “male.”) If you see mention of Melegueta (note: “mele”) Pepper in relation to Brazil, what the writer likely means is the Malagueta (note: “mala”) Chile Pepper.
The term “Guinea Pepper” in English gets used, confusingly, for both Negro Pepper and Grains of Paradise. At times in history, various writers have confused matters further by applying the name “cardamom” to Grains of Paradise. In the 1300s, Grains of Paradise in English was spelled “greyns de parys.”
In Wales, was called “Grawn Paris”