One of the recipes that stood out for me while I was choosing recipes for my book, Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen, was a recipe for a curry powder mix. This came from a notebook from William Sayer started in 1821. The reason it caught my eye was the inclusion of a spice called Grains of Paradise which I had never heard of before.
So I had to look this up. Grains of paradise are peppery seeds from the Aframomum melegueta plant. They have been used in their native West Africa for centuries, and in Europe since at least the 800s. Today, they are commonly in use in Northern Africa as well, and less abundant in Europe. This spice is also known as alligator pepper, Guinea grains, or melegueta pepper. You can use Fresh ground pepper, sansho powder (prickly ash powder) or cardamom as a substitute. Grains of Paradise come from West Africa, where they grow on a leafy plant and are easily harvested. The name comes from Medieval spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price – it was claimed that these peppery seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Although Grains of Paradise are now fairly rare and expensive, they used to be used as a cheaper substitute for black pepper. They have a zesty flavor reminiscent of pepper, with hints of flowers, coriander and cardamom.
I have recently also come across a book called The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, a marvellous book subtitled ‘The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks’ and lo and behold Grains of Paradise are included:
Amy goes into some detail about the plant but the bit that interested me was how the spice has hopefully solved a problem posed in zoos. Apparently captive western lowland gorillas often suffer from heart disease; in fact it is the cause of death for 40% of them. In the wild, grains of paradise make up 80-90% of their diet. A gorilla health project is now underway to improve the well-being of captive gorillas with grains of paradise.
How fascinating is that?
To order Amy Stewart’s great book click here
Meanwhile here is the recipes for the Currie Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen. The Grains of Paradise are the spice on the right in the picture.
As the original quantities are large I have provided the quantities here to produce just over 400g.
10g Grains of Paradise
95g Coriander Seeds
6g Ground Ginger
10g Cummin Seed
6g Fennel Seed
You can either use pre-ground or whole spices. Grind the whole seeds and spices then add the ready ground spices. Give them a short pulse on the electric grinder or pound carefully in a pestle. Can’t you just smell it now?
Store in air tight containers. As William comments ‘This is the best currie powder I ever used’ It is a medium heat and is used just like any other curry powder. As a marinade and paste for chicken I used 2 tablespoons mixed with 2 crushed cloves of garlic and lemon juice and for a vegetable curry used 1 tablespoon.