It's often confused with black pepper but this West African spice is actually part of the ginger family—and it's delicious in both savory and sweet dishes.
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wooden spoon with scooping grains of paradise
Credit: KrimKate / Getty Images

If you're looking to spice up your cooking routine, consider grains of paradise: it's warm, peppery, and woody with citrusy floral notes. Once you've tried the flavorful spice, you'll want to use it in everything from spice rubs to vegetable sides to stews. Below, learn why grains of paradise will be the star of your spice rack.

What Are Grains of Paradise?

Despite the name, grains of paradise is not a grain. It's the seed of the Melegueta pepper plant, which is native to West Africa and part of the ginger family. The seed—which is found in the plant's fruit—is also known as Guinea pepper, Melegueta pepper, or sometimes simply melegueta. And while grains of paradise might look like peppercorns, it's quite different. The tiny seeds have reddish-brown hue, cone-like shape, and yellowish tip on the base. They also have a smooth outer layer, unlike the wrinkly texture of most peppercorns.

Grains of paradise tastes like, well, paradise. It's blissfully aromatic, resinous, citrusy, gingery, and minty, according to Ethan Frisch, chef and co-founder of Burlap and Barrel, a direct trade spice company. The spice is a traditional ingredient in West African and Ethiopian cooking, where it's often used in savory preparations. However, it can also be enjoyed "in sweet dishes as an alternative to cardamom, citrus peel, cloves, or ginger," says Frisch.

Where to Buy

In the United States, grains of paradise is a rarity in big box supermarkets. However, you might be able to find it at an African grocery store, if you're lucky enough to live near one. Some specialty spice shops also offer the spice; for example, Burlap and Barrel stocks grains of paradise from a small farmer cooperative in southern Ethiopia.

How to Use

In the kitchen, grains of paradise can be used in a myriad of delicious ways. You can use it whole to flavor pickle marinades or infuse cream or butter for baked goods, custards, and ice creams, says Frisch. Alternatively, you can crush the spice in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, then add the powder to a dish as you're cooking it, explains Frisch. The warm, spicy-citrusy flavor works beautifully in "slow-cooked or braised dishes like stews, chilis, curries, and pulses like beans and lentils, where the flavors have time to develop and infuse," shares Frisch. A recipe like our Vegan Lentil Soup is the perfect contender. It also pairs especially well with spices like ginger, turmeric, paprika, cumin and chilis, he adds.

If you'd rather experiment with simpler dishes, you're in luck. Grains of paradise will shine in basic recipes like tomato sauce, says Frisch. Another option is to sprinkle it "over hearty roasted veggies like potatoes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts," he adds. Try the spice with our Chili-Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges or Potato Hash with Spinach and Eggs for a flavor-packed morning meal. Or if you're craving a warm and cozy dish, add a dash of grains of paradise to our Ginger Rice or Turmeric-Ginger Chicken Soup.

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