Grains of Paradise
The West African coast became so infamous for its abundance of spices that it quickly became known as The Pepper Coast (or Grain Coast). Grains of paradise were a particular cash crop for the region, its worth bolstered by the claims of medieval spice traders who claimed that the spice could only grow in Eden (hence the name).
Grains of paradise – or aframomum melegueta if you’re feeling a bit Latin – is a member of the ginger family and is a naturally herbaceous, perennial plant that grows comfortably in swampy habitats. The plant has trumpet-shaped, purple flowers that develop into 5 – 7cm long pods which contain numerous small, red-brown seeds with a peppery taste.
Grains of paradise has played a role in the history of alcohol production, especially after its popularity waned and it became used to flavour beer. England was importing between 15,000 and 19,000lbs a year in 1855, though this ground almost to a halt after a parliamentary act forbade its use in malt liquor, aqua vita and cocktails.
The seeds have a woody, almost piney aroma and a warm, peppery taste. Though the grains are re-emerging as an increasingly popular pepper alternative, they don’t have the harshness. You could happily bite down on a seed or two without sneezing yourself into the next room (although your teeth won’t thank you – the grains tend to be rock hard), though the fiery taste is undoubtedly present, and carries through when distilled.
Gins where Grains of Paradise are noticeable to taste:
Gins with a discernible grains of paradise hint include Opihr Gin and Bathtub Navy Strength Gin. While it’s not as easy to tell, as the overall impression isn’t of a “spiced” gin – Bombay Sapphire has a clear grains of paradise streak.
…As part of a garnish on a gin cocktail. A gin with a heavy emphasis on the spice would do well in a cocktail like the Red Snapper. The tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce will mingle wonderfully with the peppery punch. If you like the sound of it, grind them over the top of the final drink as this will avoid having little grains going up the straw while still delivering the aromatic experience.
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