GRAINS OF PARADISE: HEALTH BENEFITS OF GRAINS OF PARADISE, USES AND HISTORY: RECIPE RAS EL HANOUT, SPICE MIXTURE
Grains of Paradise have been traded since the 9th century, and were very popular in Europe. They come from West Africa and were taken across the Sahara Desert by intrepid spice traders. They were used as a pepper substitute as they were cheaper than peppercorns, although now they are a rare commodity in Europe, and more expensive than pepper. There are actually two plants which produce these seeds or grains, Aframomum melegueta and Aframomum granum paradisi. They are also known as Guinea grains and Alligator pepper. The seeds are red-brown and have irregular shapes.
They come from the same family as ginger and the plant looks a little like the one that produces cardamom seeds. They have a peppery flavour with hints of ginger, cardamom and citrus, and are faintly flowery. You can chew them to freshen your breath and get the full delightful flavour. You can put them in your pepper grinder with black pepper and use them as a condiment, which will give foods added interest. They are used in Ras el Hanout which means Top of the Shop, a Moroccan spice mixture which we give below. They are good to flavour vegetables and go well with potatoes, aubergines, pumpkins and okra. They are also good ground and rubbed into chicken or meat before it is cooked. Try some on your steak. They should be ground and added to dishes about 15 minutes before they are cooked to get the full flavour from them.
The seeds and rhizomes are used in West Africa in traditional herbal medicines, and are reputedly aphrodisiacs, stimulants and diuretics. Studies carried out on lab rats support the idea that they increase the libido (in rats) and that they can reduce pain and inflammation so may be good to treat arthritis. However they have yet to be tested on humans.
They were used to flavour the old wine, Hippocras along with cardamoms and ginger, and Gerard, the English herbalist, recommends them to be taken with “Sacke “for stomach problems. They are used in Scandinavian countries to flavour aquavit, and are one of the ingredients of Bombay Sapphire gin, and are used in the brewing of some beers.
In 1629 they were used by the inhabitants of Norwich in north eastern England to flavour herring pies. They were one of Elizabeth I’s favourite spices and were very popular in the Renaissance. This may be because the wily traders gave them the exotic name of Grains of Paradise in the 14th century as a marketing ploy so that they could make more money from their sale. In the 12th century they were half the price of pepper, so clearly traders felt they were not making enough money out of them.
The spice mixture below can be added to meat dishes, especially those that have lamb as a main ingredient, but they perk up almost every dish.
RAS EL HANOUT
This recipe makes ½ a cup of spice mixture and you can add coriander seeds, or other spices of your choice to it
2 tbsps grains of paradise
¼ cup cinnamon or cassia pieces
2 tsps ground ginger
2 tbsps turmeric
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tsps cardamom seeds (husks removed and discarded)
2 tsps cloves
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Dry fry the spices to release their aroma, then grind together and store in an airtight jar.
This spice powder will keep for up to 6 months.
This has Taste and is a Treat.