Introducing the newest member of our growing line of spices--tada!! Grains of Paradise!! What's that, you say? What kind of crazy name is that for a spice?

Maybe you know it as Alligator Pepper? That sounds pretty wild too!

Actually, grains of paradise and alligator pepper aren't exactly the same plant, though they're close relatives. The botanical name for Grains of Paradise (Aframomum malegueta) may be where the name 'Alligator Pepper' comes from for the other plant. Alligator pepper is actually Aframomum danielii (or one of several other closely related species--A. exscapum and A. citratum).

Just to be even more confusing, neither of them is related to pepper! They're both part of the ginger family, just like turmeric, cardamom and several others. They don't even really taste like pepper, though they do have a spicy zing that substitutes for black pepper very nicely. If you're sensitive to black pepper, grains of paradise works well in its place. You can grind it in a pepper grinder just like black pepper.

Various medical benefits have been claimed for Grains of Paradise, from improving the health of lowland gorillas in Africa to the notion of it being an aphrodisiac. We say only that it gives the perfect finishing touch to almost any savory recipe, where its fresh citrus-y scent and taste will enhance all the more bland ingredients.

Our recipe section contains several ways to use grains of paradise, but here is one classic example, Poudre Forte, or "strong powder." Poudre Forte turns up in cookbooks from medieval times to the present, and like most other widely used spice mixes, there are many variations. Almost all of them contain at least ginger, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and usually grains of paradise. Here is our interpretation:

Poudre Forte
  •1 part ginger powder
  •1 part Ceylon cinnamon
  •1 part powdered cloves
  •1/2 part ground black pepper
  •1/2 part ground cardamom
  •1/2 part ground grains of paradise

Each part will be the same amount, usually either a teaspoon or a tablespoon. If you want to play with the ratio of spices to figure out what you like best, start out with half and quarter teaspoons of each one. Store the mixture in a well sealed container, such as a small canning jar, out of the light. It should last a couple of months and can be added to salad dressings and tangy sauces, steamed vegetables, Indian recipes as a substitute for curry powder, and many other savory foods.

This particular ratio of spices is quite ginger-y, simply because we all happen to like ginger. If you don't like such a strong ginger flavor, you can always reduce the ginger or increase one of the other spices. If you can't use black pepper because of a sensitivity to it, just leave it out. Or reduce the amount, if it's too pepper-y for you.

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