Grains Of Paradise
During the Middle Ages, these red-hued kernels were used as substitutes for black pepper, which at the time was still wildly expensive in Europe. A few centuries of colonialism later, the ever-popular black pepper went from royal luxury to everyday staple, and the African Melegueta pepper fell into obscurity.
That is until recently, as more and more cooks realize grains of paradise's potential as a far more interesting and nuanced alternative to black pepper. Where the black spice can be all camphor and pungent, grains of paradise show a balance of woodsy and citrusy flavors that give way to warm notes of cinnamon and cardamom, with way less harshness than black pepper. You can use it anywhere you'd use pepper, but I find it brings exceptional balance—more than black pepper would—to simple vinaigrette's, pepper-crusted beef, and spice cakes.
So now that you know....
Here's something simple you can do, to get to know this wonderful spice.
SYRUP OF GRAINS OF PARADISE AND ROSEMARY
Time: 15 minutes
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons grains of paradise, slightly crushed
2 tablespoons fine balsamic vinegar, or to taste.
In a small saucepan, mix together all the ingredients plus 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer partly covered, for 10 minutes. Let mixture cool, then taste, adjusting sweetness and acidity as necessary. Let mixture steep longer if more flavor is desired. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, and store refrigerated. Sprinkle over fresh fruit, like mango or strawberries.