Definitions

Aframomum melegueta

Aframomum melegueta

For the similarly-named Luso-Brazilian chili pepper, see Malagueta pepper.

Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. The West African spice commonly known as Grains of paradise, Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains or Guinea pepper is obtained from this plant; it gives a pungent, peppery flavor.

Characteristics

It is a herbaceous perennial plant native to swampy habitats along the West African coast. Its trumpet-shaped, purple flowers develop into 5 to 7 cm long pods containing numerous small, reddish-brown seeds.

The seeds have a pungent, peppery taste due to aromatic ketones, e.g., (6)-paradol (systematic name: 1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-decan-3-one). Essential oils, which are the dominating flavor components in the closely related cardamom, occur only in traces.

Uses

Grains of paradise are commonly employed in the cooking styles of West Africa and North Africa, where they have been traditionally imported via caravan routes through the Sahara desert. Grains of paradise became a very fashionable substitute for black pepper in the 14th and 15th century Europe, especially in northern France, one of the most populous regions in Europe at the time. In the early modern period, the craze for the spice waned and it became more common as a flavoring for sausages and beer. Today it is largely unknown outside of West and North Africa, except for its use as a flavoring in some beers (including Samuel Adams Summer Ale), Vosges Haut-Chocolate's 'Field Songs' Truffle, gins, and Norwegian aquavit.

Properties

In West African folk medicine, grains of paradise are valued for their warming and digestive properties. A. melegueta has been introduced to the Caribbean Islands, where it is used as medicine and for religious (voodoo) rites.

References

For an article on gorillas, heart disease, and Aframomum melegueta, see: BioScience, v57 (May 2007) pp. 392–397 Out of Africa: A Tale of Gorillas, Heart Disease... and a Swamp Plant STORY BY CHERYL LYN DYBAS and PHOTOGRAPHY BY ILYA RASKIN

See also

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