Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. This spice, commonly known as Grains of Paradise, Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains, fom wisa, or Guinea pepper, is obtained from the ground seeds; it imparts a pungent, peppery flavour with hints of citrus. The pungent, peppery taste of the seeds is caused by aromatic ketones. Essential oils, which are the dominating flavor components in the closely related cardamom, occur only in traces.
The flowers of the herbaceous plant are described as "handsome" aromatic, with an orange colored lip and rich pinkish-orange upper part. The fruits contains numerous small golden red-brown seeds. Melegueta is commonly employed in the cuisines of West and North Africa, where it has been traditionally imported via caravan routes through the Sahara desert, and whence they were distributed to Sicily and the rest of Italy.
Mentioned by Pliny as "African pepper" but subsequently forgotten in Europe, they were renamed "grains of paradise" and became a popular substitute for black pepper in Europe in the 14th- and 15th-centuries. The importance of the spice is shown by the designation of the area from the St Johns River to Harper in Liberia as the "Grain Coast" in honor of the availability of grains of paradise. Later, the craze for the spice waned, and its uses were reduced to a flavoring for sausages and beer. In the eighteenth century, its importation to Great Britain collapsed after a Parliamentary act of George III forbade its use in malt liquor, aqua vita and cordials. In 1855, England imported about 15,000 to 19,000 lbs per year legally. By 1880, the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th edition) was reporting, "Grains of paradise are to some extent used in veterinary practice but for the most part illegally to give a fictitious strength to malt liquors, cordials“ and guess what, „gin“, which is where the monkeys comes into play.
It is said that the presence of the seeds in the diets of lowland gorillas seems to have some sort of medicinal properties for their cardiovascular health in the wild. As captive lowland gorillas haven't had them usually available in their diets, it could be a cause of their occasionally poor cardiovascular health in zoos! Today, it is being used in gourmet cuisine as a replacement to pepper, and is used in craft beers as well as, now legally, in our Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin from the black forest.