1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Grains of Paradise

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GRAINS OF PARADISE, Guinea Grains, or Melegueta Pepper (Ger. Paradieskörner, Fr. graines de Paradis, maniguette), the seeds of Amomum Melegueta, a reed-like plant of the natural order Zingiberaceae. It is a native of tropical western Africa, and of Prince’s and St Thomas’s islands in the Gulf of Guinea, is cultivated in other tropical countries, and may with ease be grown in hothouses in temperate climates. The plant has a branched horizontal rhizome; smooth, nearly sessile, narrowly lanceolate-oblong alternate leaves; large, white, pale pink or purplish flowers; and an ovate-oblong fruit, ensheathed in bracts, which is of a scarlet colour when fresh, and reaches under cultivation a length of 5 in. The seeds are contained in the acid pulp of the fruit, are commonly wedge-shaped and bluntly angular, are about 11/4 lines in diameter and have a glossy dark-brown husk, with a conical light-coloured membranous caruncle at the base and a white kernel. They contain, according to Flückiger and Hanbury, 0.3% of a faintly yellowish neutral essential oil, having an aromatic, not acrid taste, and a specific gravity at 15.5° C of 0.825, and giving on analysis the formula C20H32O, or C10H16+C10H16O; also 5.83% of an intensely pungent, viscid, brown resin.

Grains of paradise were formerly officinal in British pharmacopoeias, and in the 13th and succeeding centuries were used as a drug and a spice, the wine known as hippocras being flavoured with them and with ginger and cinnamon. In 1629 they were employed among the ingredients of the twenty-four herring pies which were the ancient fee-favour of the city of Norwich, ordained to be carried to court by the lord of the manor of Carleton (Johnston and Church, Chem. of Common Life, p. 355, 1879). Grains of paradise were anciently brought overland from West Africa to the Mediterranean ports of the Barbary states, to be shipped for Italy. They are now exported almost exclusively from the Gold Coast. Grains of paradise are to some extent used illegally to give a fictitious strength to malt liquors, gin and cordials. By 56 Geo. III. c. 58, no brewer or dealer in beer shall have in his possession or use grains of paradise, under a penalty of £200 for each offence; and no druggist shall sell the same to a brewer under a penalty of £500. They are, however, devoid of any injurious physiological action, and are much esteemed as a spice by the natives of Guinea.

See Bentley and Trimen, Medicinal Plants, tab. 268; Lanessan, Hist. des Drogues, pp. 456–460 (1878).