Discovering the Grains of Paradise / Alligator Pepper

I love being adventurous in my kitchen.  As much as I don’t like to over complicate things when it comes to cooking, discovering new spices is one of my favorite activities and thank you so much for the local groceries and the amazing website, trying and learning about spices from all around the globe is now simple, affordable (most time) and so delicious…

I recently came across some GRAINS OF PARADISE also called alligator pepper on myspicesage and I just had to try it!   I fell in love with the name at first, then my stomach started calling for it the more and more I was reading about their taste and history.  Today I wanted to post a recipe of roasted fennel and grains of paradise but since the story of these little seeds is so interesting, I thought you guys deserve a bit of theory before anything.

Ready for this culinary adventure?

What is alligator pepper and what does it taste like?

Ok let’s start with the fun part, the taste.  The easier way to describe it, would be like a fancier and more delicate black pepper with a miniature hint of lemon a bit like when you crush a coriander seed.  Some people say that they also taste a hint of flower and cardamom but to be honest, I don’t taste it.  Back in the medieval times, black peppercorns was so expensive and reserved for the highest rank of society so most people took these peppery seeds as a substitute for it.  Although it’s true that it’s an amazing substitute, today’s prices are very high and it’s not affordable or worth buying for everybody.  Now call me fancy, but I like to have a big diversity of spices in my spice rack and I didn’t really care about the price and just went for it.  Food is part of the little pleasures of life and I want to experiment as much as I can before my time here comes to an end.  Can you blame me?

The name “Grains of Paradise” comes from Medieval spice traders  who were looking for a way to inflate the price – it was claimed that these peppery seeds (not berries like the black peppercorns) grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise.  It’s pretty crazy what people are ready to believe sometime right?   Besideof it’s other name alligator pepper, it’s also been called: Guinea grains or Guinea Pepper.

The seed comes from a harvested plant from West Africa called: Aframomum Melequeta witch is also part of the ginger family.  They are inside pods at the roots of the plant and are dried before getting to us.  We’re pretty far from the fancy stories but it doesn’t matter, the process doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.

What are the most common uses for these peppery seeds?

Like I’ve said in the previous paragraph, the grains of paradise is a direct substitute for black pepper so feel free to use them in pretty much everything where you would be using black peppercorns whole, crushed or powered.  Most of people I talked to tasted them in beer (Samuel Adams Summer Ale), sausages and various soups and stews.   The different aromas of the grains is enhanced by herbs like thyme and rosemary, plus it’s perfect for fish and seafood because of it’s lemony flavor (crack the shell for a more pungent lemon taste).  I personally LOVE it on roasted veggies like the recipe of roasted fennel I’ll be presenting you tomorrow or in a salad dressing.

Medicinal and Magical properties?

Its been said that the seeds have some aphrodisiac, digestive and “good luck” properties.  In some diets, the black pepper is often replaced by the grains of paradise because it’s less harsh on the digestive system.  In Africa, some people will chew on them to be warmer when they feel cold and use them in divination rituals.  I have read online that if you like gambling, you can chew on a few seeds for good luck and spit them in your hand before trowing the dices for an extra boost of good luck.  In the Caribbean Islands, it’s been said that they use the grains in medicine and some voodoo rituals as well.  Pretty cool right?

Now the Nutrition Facts … more useful information!

On this I hope you enjoyed this post on the grains of paradise, and stay tuned for tomorrow first recipe featuring these amazing seeds! … There will be many more, you can be certain of that 😛


  1. says

    Looks very tasty, thanks for sharing Ariel 😉

    “I love being adventurous in my kitchen” : each time I’m trying to cook, it’s very adventurous… but I guess it’s not what you meant because actually YOU can cook :)

  2. NC says

    Thanks for this article; it’s great to read about how these are used in other cultures, however I just wanted to point out that Grains of Paradise are not the same as Alligator pepper. They are related, but have different tastes (and are therefore used differently in West African cultures and cuisines). Like many African products (e.g. groundnuts / peanuts), they seem to be referred to interchangeably, however this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are different.


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