Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time.
On a recent search for new pantry ingredients with food blogging friend TW Barritt of Culinary Types, I acquired this tin of grains of paradise -- so unfamiliar to me that I had to look it up on my phone in the middle of the store.
Popular in West African cuisine and indigenous to that part of the world, grains of paradise (also called Melegueta or alligator pepper) got its name in a medieval marketing ploy: spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price claimed that the seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Spices were popular in those days, but true pepper was expensive; grains of paradise was a cheaper substitute (ironically, today pepper is inexpensive, while grains of paradise is not cheap at all). The spice was widely used in England until King George III, fearing it was being used in beer and wine production, banned it.
Grains of paradise tastes pungent and fruity, a bit like pepper crossed with cardamom. A frequent component of the spice blend ras el hanout, it works well with eggplant, potatoes, lamb and poultry, squash, tomatoes, and other root vegetables. Purchased in seed form, it must be ground or crushed right before use, and is best added towards the end of the cooking time.
Is this Pantry Special new to you?