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Grains of Paradise (Aframomum melegueta [Roskoe] K. Schum.)


botanicalAmomum melegueta, Amomum grana paradisi
pharmaceuticalGrana paradisi
Kewrerima, Korarima
Arabicجوزة السودان, جوزة الشرق
جَوْزَة الْسُودَان, جَوْزَة الْشَرْق
Jouz as-Sudan, Jouz ash-sharq, Jouz al-Sudan, Gawz al-Sudan, Gawz al-shark, Jawz as-Sirk, Tin al-Fil
BulgarianМелегета пипер
Melegeta piper
天國穀粒 [tiān guó gǔ lì]
Tian guo gu li
CzechRajská zrna, Pepř malaguetský, Guinejská zrna
EnglishGuinea grains, Melegueta pepper, Alligator pepper
EstonianMelegeti aframon
EweAwusa, Awisa, Dzekuli, Megbedogboe, Dzekuli, Atakui
FanteSensam, Wisa, Wusa
FrenchGraines de paradis, Malaguette, Poivre de Guinée, Maniguette
Ga-DangmeAnai wie, Anairo wie, Wie
GermanParadieskörner, Guineapfeffer, Meleguetapfeffer, Malagettapfeffer
GreekΠιπέρι μελεγκέτα
Piperi melenketa
Hebrewגרגר גן העדן
גַּרְגֵּר גַּן הַעֵדֶן
Garger gan ha-eden
ItalianGrani de Meleguetta, Grani paradisi, Mani guetta, Grani del paradiso
Korean기니아생강, 멜리구에타 후추
Kinia-saenggang, Melligueta huchu
LithuanianMalageta, Rojinis imbierpipiri
NzemaEzakpa, Eza
PolishPieprz malagetta
PortugueseSementes-do-paraíso, Grãos-do-paraíso, Pimenta Guiné
RomanianGrăunțele paradisuluiGrăunţele paradisului, Piper de Guineea
RussianРайские зёрна, Райские зерна, Малагвет
Rajskie zyorna, Rajskie zerna, Malagvet
SlovakAframon Rajské zrno, Guinejský kardamon
SlovenianMalguetta poper, Rajsko zrnje
SpanishMalagueta, Pimienta de malagueta
TwiWisa, Fam wisa, Wisa pa Opokuo
Turkishİdrifil, Itrıfil, Itrifil-i sagir†

Aframomum melegueta: Grains of Paradise
Grains of Paradise
Cookbooks from Cameroon (West Africa) mention the atzoh plant, whose seeds can be used as a spice (mbongo). This plant is Aframomum citratum, a close relative of grains of paradise.
Used plant part

Seed. The seeds have approximately the size and the shape of cardamom seeds (3 mm), but are reddish–brown in colour. In powdered form, they become pale gray. A good photo of the seeds is shown by Norman.

Plant family

Zingiberaceae (ginger family).

Aframomum melegueta: Caribbean grain of paradise capsule
Grain of paradise capsule from the Caribbean
Aframomum melegueta: Grain of Paradise Pod
The grains of paradise grow in large pods
Sensory quality

Spicy, hot and warm, a little bitter.

Main constituents

The essential oil from grains of paradise is dominated by the sesqui­terpene hydro­carbons humulene, α- and β-caryo­phyllene (together 83%) and their oxides (together 9%). (Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 14, 109, 1999)

In the acetone extract of grains or paradise from Ghana, the following hydroxyaryl­alkanones were found: 1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxy­phenyl)-decan-3-one (called (6)-paradole), 1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxy­phenyl)-3-hendecan-3-one (called (7)-paradole) and 1-(4-hydroxy-3-methox­yphenyl)-3-deca-4-ene-3-one (called (6)-shoagole) in approximately equal parts. (Phytochemistry, 14, 853, 1975).

Other work reports (6)-paradole, (6)-shoagole and (6)-gingerole (5-hydroxy-(6)-paradole) are reported as the main hydroxyarylalkanones. On storage, gingerols can interconvert to shoagols, which means a loss of pungency (see also ginger). (Phytochemistry, 40, 1097, 1995)

Aframomum melegueta: Grain of Paradise plant
Grain of Paradise plant

© Josh Weber

Aframomum melegueta: Ripe fruits of grain of paradise
Fresh grain of paradise pod

© Josh Weber


Grains of paradise are native to Africa’s West coast, namely the countries Ghana, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo and Nigeria. Most imports stem from Ghana. In the countries of origin, the seeds are used not only to flavour food, but they are also chewed on cold days to warm the body.


In the Middle Ages, the spice was termed grana paradisi grains of paradise because of its high value. This name also mirrors the medieval conception of an earthly paradise full of the scent of spices. Many contemporary languages have loan translations of that name, e. g., German Paradieskörner, Czech rajská zrna and Portu­guese grãos-do-paraíso, Roma­nian grăun­țele para­disuluigrăun­ţele para­disului and Hun­garian para­dicsom­mag, all of which mean seeds of para­dise or grains of para­dise (note the plural in­volved).

Hebrew uses the Biblical term Eden [עֵדֶן] in forming the name gargeri gan ha-eden [גרגרי גן העדן] grains from the garden of Eden. The Chinese name tian-guo gu-li [天國穀粒] grains from the heavenly realm involves the Chinese religious term for heaven, tian-guo.

Most languages have names like pepper of Guinea referring to the biting taste and the region of origin in West Africa. Examples are French poivre de Guinée, Portuguese pimenta Guiné and German Guinea­pfeffer; similar is Czech Guinejská zrna Guinea grains. In some languages, the the botanical epithet applies not to pepper but to spices botanically related to grains of paradise: Korean kinia senggang [기니아생강] ginger of Guinea or Slovak Guinejský kardamon cardamom of Guinea. Cf. also Lithuanian imbierpipiri ginger pepper.

The element mala­gueta ap­pears in many names of grains of para­dise, with consider­able ortho­graphic vari­ation. The spice is com­monly termed mala­gueta pepper, e. g., Czech pepř mala­guetský, Bul­garian melegeta piper [мелегета пипер] and Greek piperi melenketa [πιπέρι μελεγκέτα]; an­other possible compound is melegueta grains (Italian grani de Meleguetta). Although the etymology is not clear, it appears that the name was originally not an epithet for pepper, but an independent name. Some languages still use it as such, e. g., French maniguette, Russian malagvet [малагвет] and, quite significantly, Spanish malagueta (besides the longer pimienta de malagueta).

The medieval Spanish and Portuguese form of that word was malagueta; a theory links it to malagua, a now less-common term for jellyfish or medusa (literally bad water, because jellyfish-infested waters are no good for bathing). The reference would, then, be the pungent, biting flavour of the spice. See water pepper for the etymology of Portuguese água water.

According to another theory, the base word is an Iberic cognate to Italian meligo sorghum, millet, although the diminutive appears less plausible. Also, borrowing from an African tongue has been suggested. In Brazil, which was a Portuguese colony, the name melegueta was transferred to a local wild type of chile.

About the element amomum in the genus name see cardamom.

Selected Links

The Epicentre: Melegueta Pepper Francesco Sirene: Spices & Herbs (Catalogue) The Spice House: Grains of Paradise World Merchants: Grains of Paradise Sorting Aframomum names ( American Spice Company: Grains of Paradise Herbie’s Spices: Grains of Paradise Olivers and Co: Grains of Paradise Gewürzkontor Condimento: Paradieskörner Aromates, épices et condiments du monde entier Rezept von Galat dagga The History of Grains of Paradise Gorilla Staple Adds Spice to New Drugs ( Gewürz-Bazar: Paradieskörner

Aframomum melegueta: Grain of paradise flower
Grain of paradise plant with flower

Aframomum melegueta: Grain of paradise flower
Grain of paradise flower

The grains of paradise have been an important spice in century Europe, when spices were high in demand, but the sea route to India had not yet been discovered. In these times, grains of paradise were a common substitute for black pepper. The West African coast got its name pepper coast because the grains of paradise were traded there. Later, in the Renaissance, when pepper hat outrun them as the favourite kitchen spice, grains of paradise were common as beer flavouring (see gale).

Since then, the importance of this spice has vanished to quite zero in our days; outside its production area (Central Africa), it is only known in Northern Africa and may appear in Moroccan spice mixtures (see cubeb pepper). See also negro pepper for a comparison of several pungent spices.

Apart from Mo­rocco, grains of paradise are also popular in neighbouring Tunisia. Tunisian stews are frequently flavoured with an aromatic mixture called gâlat dagga, which contains grains of paradise besides black pepper and several sweet spices: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Combining peppery pungency and rich aroma, this mixture is a good example of Arab cooking tradition.

In the West, grains of paradise are now hard to obtain, but still valuable for people following old recipes (e. g., for sausages or spiced wine). But this pungent grain is a worthy addition to many other everyday dishes. Their hotness is not as strong as in pepper, but more subtle and goes well with vegetables (potatoes, aubergines, pumpkin). To obtain best results, grains of paradise must be ground before use and should be added shortly before serving. Despite their rather pungent taste when tried alone, they must be used liberally to obtain satisfactory results.

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