Grains of Paradise Spice | Benefits, Uses, Side Effects

What Are Grains of Paradise?

Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and is closely related to cardamom. An aromatic spice, similar to peppercorns, has its origin in West Africa. Other names for this spice include grains of paradise, alligator pepper, ossame, or melegueta pepper,

It’s popularly used as a spice, especially in African cuisines that have hints of citrus and pungent flavor.

This seed is reddish-brown and about ⅛-inch in diameter.

Over the years, this African spice lost its popularity to black pepper. Today, it is best known for its usefulness in the production of the Scandinavian spirit aquavit and flavoring beer and cocktails.

What Does It Taste Like?

Grain of Paradise has a complex flavor: peppery, woody, and herby, with a subtle heat. You’ll find some traits of other spices like cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, citrus, and juniper in each of the grains (seeds).

Its taste is quite identical to that of black pepper. However, its heat builds up slowly and is not instantly punchy and sharp like black or white pepper.

How Is It Used in Cooking?

The piney aroma and the warm, peppery taste of grains of paradise seeds are a delicious way to season myriad recipes.

It’s a flavorful ingredient that can be used in any recipe that calls for black pepper. It works well in a spice rub for meat and fish dishes. In fact, use it in any recipe that needs to have peppery heat.

You’ll find it commonly used in West and North African cooking—a fine ingredient used in the Moroccan spice blend ras el-hanout.

Until the 19th century, it was one of the most sought-after ingredients used in European beer and winemaking. Some continue to use it.

The seeds are used as a whole and removed and discarded before serving. Cracked seeds are used to flavor oil or butter before sautéing vegetables. Nonetheless, using ground seeds in your recipes gives the maximum punch, heat, and aroma.

Health Benefits of Grains of Paradise

It’s a precious spice that contains several beneficial compounds useful for health. In West Africa, it’s widely used in different concoctions of herbal medicines for treating various ailments.

They are rich in minerals like iron, manganese, and calcium. Studies suggest that 100 grams of these seeds contain half of the daily recommended amount of calcium needed for our body and about 28 mg of iron. Also, you’ll get about 5 mg of manganese which is more than your daily requirement.

These seeds are rich in vitamin A which is useful for healthy bones and the immune system. Vitamin B-6 in them supports a range of health vitals, especially the immune system and skin. You’ll get a good dose of vitamin C from these seeds is a powerful antioxidant that the body uses for the synthesis of collagen needed for strong blood vessels and healthy skin. This spice contains a good bit of vitamin E, an important antioxidant for a healthy heart and skin.

The essential oils obtained from grains of paradise are rich in shogaol, gingerol, and paradol. Many recent studies vouch that shogaol inhibits breast cancer cells; also stimulates saliva and bile production. Gingerol, an active compound in ginger roots, is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial property. Paradol, the active flavor constituent in this seed was found to be useful in increasing metabolic rate.

These spicy pepper-like seeds have proven medicinal benefits for managing inflammation, increasing libido, and calming stomach irritations. It’s a carminative that helps to ease vomiting and intestinal issues, especially during pregnancy. Traditional African medicines rely on these seeds to treat indigestion and heartburn.

In West Africa, it’s a sort-after ingredient for increasing libido. Regular consumption of grains of paradise seeds is expected to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and heart disease.

Grains of Paradise Side Effects

Grains of Paradise is a spice closely related to ginger and turmeric. It’s usually safe for most adults in typical food quantities. However, it can cause some side effects, including:

  • Stomach upset: This spice might lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Skin irritation: Occasionally, it can result in skin issues like redness and itching.
  • Allergic reactions: If you’re allergic to spices like ginger or turmeric, you might also react to grains of paradise.

If you notice any adverse effects after using grains of Paradise, it’s advisable to stop using it and seek advice from a healthcare expert.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good substitute for grains of paradise?

Use ½ teaspoon ground pepper for each teaspoon of grains of paradise. Other ingredients you can use instead of this spice are sansho powder or ground cardamom. However, the most appropriate substitute for grains of paradise is using a mixture of ground black pepper, ground ginger, and ground cardamom in equal parts.

Are grains of paradise a stimulant?

Yes. Certain chemical properties in grains of paradise are expected to give the benefits of a stimulant like caffeine in coffee. In fact, you’ll find some of the sports supplements are infused with extracts of the alligator pepper spice. They say that this spice boosts metabolic activities and helps in the faster burning of calories to give you an instant energy boost. However, there is insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of grains of paradise supplements.

What are the side effects of grains of paradise?

There isn’t verified evidence that suggests the side effects of grains of paradise; by far they are safe for most adults. Like any other hot spices, they may cause irritation of the stomach, intestine, and urinary system in some rare cases.

Do grains of paradise work for weight loss?

Clinical trials suggest that grains of paradise supplements help to reduce white adipose tissue at the cellular level and it reduces the space to store fat. This spice is expected to increase the metabolic rate which leads to faster burning of calories. Overall, regular use of grains of paradise may have some effects on weight in combination with regular exercises and proper diet.

Where to buy grains of paradise?

It’s hard to find the grains of paradise in typical grocery stores in the USA and Europe. If at all, you might find them in African spice stores or specialty spice shops that sell brewing supplies. Instead of searching for them in the groceries, buy grains of paradise from online spice shops, also sold by Amazon and Walmart.

Where to buy grains of paradise?

Grains of paradise can be purchased from a variety of retailers, including specialty spice shops, online retailers, and some grocery stores.

What is alligator pepper?

Alligator pepper, or mbongo spice, comes from West Africa. It's made from seeds of the Aframomum melegueta plant and tastes strong, citrus-like, and spicy. Common in soups, stews, and marinades, it's also thought to have health benefits like reducing inflammation.

Why is grains of paradise illegal?

Grains of paradise were banned in Florida in 1868, labeled as harmful in drinks. But in 2021, this rule changed because federal laws now say it's safe to use them in food and drinks.