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For the similarly-named Luso-Brazilian chili pepper, see Malagueta pepper.
Aframomum melegueta - Grains of Paradise
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Zingiberales
Family: Zingiberaceae
Genus: Aframomum
Species: A. melegueta
Binomial name
Aframomum melegueta
K. Schum.

Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. This spice commonly known as Grains of paradise, Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains or Guinea pepper is obtained from the plant's ground seeds; it gives a pungent, peppery flavour. Although it is native to West Africa, it is an important cash crop in the Basketo special woreda of southern Ethiopia.[1]



A. melegueta is a herbaceous perennial plant native to swampy habitats along the West African coast. Its trumpet-shaped, purple flowers develop into 5 to 7 cm long pods containing numerous small, reddish-brown seeds.

The pungent, peppery taste of the seeds is caused by aromatic ketones; e.g., (6)-paradol (systematic name: 1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-decan-3-one). Essential oils, which are the dominating flavor components in the closely related cardamom,[2] occur only in traces.


Grains of paradise are commonly employed in the cuisines of West Africa and of North Africa, where they have been traditionally imported via caravan routes in a series of transshipments through the Sahara desert and whence they were distributed to Sicily and Italy. Mentioned by Pliny as "African pepper" but subsequently forgotten in Europe, grains of paradise became a very fashionable substitute for black pepper in 14th- and 15th-century[3] Europe, especially in northern France, one of the most populous regions in Europe at the time.[4] The Ménagier de Paris recommends it for improving wine that "smells stale". Through the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period, the theory of the Four Humours governed theorizing about nourishment on the part of doctors, herbalists and druggists: in this context, "graynes of paradise, hoot & moyste þey be" John Russell observed, in The Boke of Nurture.[5] Later, the craze for the spice waned, and its uses were reduced to a flavoring for sausages and beer. In the eighteenth century its importation to Great Britain collapsed after a Parliamentary act of George III forbade its use in malt liquor, aqua vita and cordials.[6] By 1880 the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th edition) was reporting, "Grains of paradise are to some extent used in veterinary practice but for the most part illegally to give a fictitious strength to malt liquors, gin and cordials".[7]

Aframomum melegueta pods at a market in São João dos Angolares, São Tomé Island. The fruits are eaten raw in that nation's cuisine.

Today it is largely unknown outside of West and North Africa, except for its use as a flavoring in some beers (including Samuel Adams Summer Ale), gins, and Norwegian aquavit. In America, Grains of Paradise are starting to enjoy a slight resurgence in popularity due to their use by some well-known chefs. Alton Brown is a fan of its use, and he uses it in his apple pie recipe on an episode[8] of the tv cooking show Good Eats. They are also used by people on certain diets, such as a raw-food diet, because they are less irritating to digestion than black pepper.


In West African folk medicine, grains of paradise are valued for their warming and digestive properties, and among the Efik people in Nigeria have been used for divination and ordeals determining guilt.[9] A. melegueta has been introduced to the Caribbean Islands, where it is used as medicine and for religious (voodoo) rites.


  1. ^ "Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) Livelihood Profiles: Regional Overview", FEWS NET (January 2005), p. 27 (accessed 18 May 2009)
  2. ^ Grains of Paradise are listed among the unofficial varieties of Cardamum Seed in the 25th ed. of the Dispensatory of the United States of America (1955) p. 257, Paul E. Beichner notes, in "The Grain of Paradise" Speculum 36.2 (April 1961:302-307) p 303. Beichner suggests that the miraculous greyn of The Prioress's Tale was Grain of Paradise.
  3. ^ Several recipes in Two Fifteenth-century Cookery-Books, Thomas Austin, ed, Early English Texts Society, 91 (1888), noted in passing by Beichner 1961, under the names graynys of parise, graynis of parys Graynys of Perys, and simply Graynis.
  4. ^ "Its popularity may have been due to the brilliant name thought up for it by some advertising genius born before his times," observes Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, Anthea Bell, tr., The History of Food, revised ed. 2009, p. 446.
  5. ^ Noted, with other examples of fiery and watery grains of Paradise, by Beichner 1961, p. 304, note 8; cardamom, with which it was often confused, as Cardamomum maius and Cardamomum minus, was reported by Dioscurides as hot and dry in its qualities, as recorded in the late 13th-century Herbal of Rufinus (Beichner, p. 305f).
  6. ^ Peter Kup, A history of Sierra Leone, 1400-1787 (Cambridge University)
  7. ^ Quoted in Beichner 1961, p. 304.
  8. ^ Apple of My Pie, season 11, episode 15.
  9. ^ Donald C. Simmons, "Efik Divination, Ordeals, and Omens" Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 12.2 (Summer, 1956:223-228) pp223f,

See also


  • Dybas, Cheryl Lyn, Ilya Raskin, photographer, "Out of Africa: A Tale of Gorillas, Heart Disease... and a Swamp Plant" BioScience, 57 (May 2007) pp. 392–397.
  • Katzer spice site
  • Grains of

External links



Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies


Classification System: APG II (down to family level)

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiospermae
Cladus: Monocots
Cladus: Commelinids
Ordo: Zingiberales
Familia: Zingiberaceae
Genus: Aframomum
Species: Aframomum melegueta


Aframomum melegueta Schumann


USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database, 6 March 2006 ( Data compiled from various sources by Mark W. Skinner. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.


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