Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aframomum melegueta, Grains of Paradise. It's not contraband but it's cool

I love the obscure....and plants and spices and cultural history and anecdotes. Wow I hit the jackpot today.

My desk, in our temporary quarters, is across the aisle from the mail-room so I heard a curious exchange between (Dr.) Alan Whittemore (below holding the spice) and GrayC (middle holding the package with the roots) at the end of which GrayC acknowledged that yes the FedEx could be hers, was hers, and she was excited about it. Excited about roots of Afromomum melegueta, a member of the Zingiberaceae native to West Africa. It was and is an important plant with various medicinal and culinary uses. The seeds are rich in volatile aromatic ketones, highly piquant, and used for seasoning. For at least 2,000 years it's been known in Europe and was extensively used as a substitute for black pepper, Piper nigrum, in the 14th and 15th Centuries. It was also used in divination ceremonies, and the production of various alcoholic beverages though over the years those used dwindled almost to nothing though it remains an important element in the cuisine of West and North Africe; today it's used in the brewing of Sam Adams Ale.

Anyway, Alan, a taxonomist and ruler of our herbarium, told GrayC and Chris C this story, in greater depth and with more accuracy; Alan has more facts at his disposal than anyone I know. GrayC was motivated to hunt it down and did and here we are. I eagerly anticipate seeing the plants and ultimately tasting the seeds. Actually, I'm not going to wait, I'm going to track them down this weekend.


rocky said...

are you sure Grains of Paradise isn't used in the Sam Adams Lager ...

ChrisU said...

I stand corrected! Actually, I'm sitting. Thanks Rocky