Reference: 'What peppercorns only dream of being' New York Times, Page B15 May 3, 2000 by Ammanda Hesser
Grains of Paradise, Guinea Pepper, also known as Atar, Aligator Pepper, Melegueta Pepper
A member of the Ginger family; the grains of paradise plant resembles cardamom, turmeric an ginger. It can be cultivated only in hot humid tropical climates.
"When cracked like coriander between the teeth, the flavor of grains of paradise releases a billowing aroma, with a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper, at the back of the mouth. The taste changes by the second with lingering heat. The spice is pleasantly tempered, with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, with an oiliness similar to nuts... Grains of paradise are dense fragrance underlined with heat."
Grains of paradise are native to the coastal areas of Africa's Gulf of Guinea which includes today's countries of Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Nigeria and Cameroon where grains of paradise have a long-standing record of ethnobotancial use. Before the spice trade routes from Western Europe to the East Indies were established, a lively trade of grains of paradise, cubeb and long peppers existed. Oceanic travels to the spice islands by the Portuguese, Dutch and English in the 17th century diminished the value and importance of grains of paradise in face of competition of black pepper, clove, mace and nutmeg.
Outside west Africa, grains of paradise are only a minor spice commodity, finding use as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages such as beer, ale and gin. It is an ingredient in 'raz al hanout' a Moroccan spice mixture.