Perhaps the most evocatively named gin botanical around, grains of paradise are a bit like black pepper with extra attitude.
These small seeds come from a West African plant in the ginger family, which is closely related to cardamom. Used a spice by Europeans before they had access to black pepper from Southeast Asia, they pack the same peppery punch of heat as that spice, but with added, fragrant layers of citrus, cardamom and ginger.
Also known as Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper or Guinea pepper, the ‘grains of paradise’ moniker is thought to have come from the marketing tactics of medieval spice traders, who made up stories that the spice could only be harvested from the Garden of Eden.
While the ground spice from grains of paradise has now almost completely vanished from use in European cuisine, it has remained central to its native West African cuisine for centuries. It’s often included in spice blends from the region, mixed with coriander, cinnamon, cloves and dried chilli to flavour anything from soups and stews to grilled meat. It’s also commonly found in the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout.
Grains of paradise certainly aren’t one of the most popular gin botanicals, but they do pop up in some well-known ones, including Bombay Sapphire, Monkey 47 – as well, of course, as our wonderful June Gin of the Month, NB Navy Strength Gin. It works to intensify the flavours in the gin, as well as bringing its own fragrant, lingering spice.
While you won’t necessarily find grains of paradise in your local supermarket, they are readily available to buy online. You can use them in place of black pepper in cooking – try using them to flavour a grilled steak or piece of tuna, or mixing it with coriander and lemon to marinade a chicken. You can also use the grains as a novel G&T garnish.
Alternatively, why not use it to make the delicious syrup below, which is great drizzled on fresh fruit or added to gin and soda water to create a refreshing summer drink as in the following recipe.
Rosemary Paradise Gin Fizz
15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
15ml grains of paradise & rosemary syrup
90ml soda water
Shake gin, lemon juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a glass filled with ice. Top up with soda.
Garnish with lemon slice and a rosemary sprig.
Grains of Paradise & Rosemary Syrup
175ml dry white wine
3 tbsp rosemary leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp grains of paradise, slightly crushed
2 tbsp fine balsamic vinegar, or to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partly cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and let it cool then taste the mixture, adjusting the acidity and sweetness as necessary. You can let it steep for longer if you want a stronger flavour. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and store in the fridge in a sealed container until ready to use.