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hot stuff that's native to Africa

Hot Peppers and the Grain Coast

Africa has a well-deserved reputation for spicy-hot food. However, Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is native to Asia and was introduced to Africa sometime in the first millenium AD. Chile Peppers (all members from the Capsicum family, which are used in cooking and made into red or cayenne pepper) are native to the American tropics. They arrived in Africa soon after Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World, around 1500 AD. But even before Africans had pepper from Asia and America, they had Grains of Paradise, also called Melegueta Pepper, Atare, or Guinea Pepper. (Aframomum melegueta) which is native to West Africa. In the 1300 and 1400's, before Europeans knew of America or the sea-route to Asia, Grains of Paradise were exported from Africa to Europe. The African coastline in the present-day Liberia was known to Europeans as the "Grain Coast", named for the trade. (Just as Ghana was the "Gold Coast", and part of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin were the "Slave Coast". The name "Ivory Coast" still survives, though the elephants are rarer today.) Presumably Grains of Paradise were used in Africa the same way black or red pepper is used today: as a seasoning in sauces, soups, stews and on roasted meat. In Europe, Grains of Paradise were used as a substitute for the more expensive black pepper. They were also used in beer and spiced wines. Grains of Paradise are mentioned in some European cookbooks of the 14th and 15th century. As Black Pepper became more common, demand for Grains of Paradise declined and today the spice is nearly forgotten in Europe and in most of Africa as well.



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