Mentioned by Pliny as "African pepper" but subsequently forgotten in Europe, grains of paradise became a very fashionable substitute for black pepper in 14th- and 15th-century Europe, especially in northern France, one of the most populous regions in Europe at the time.
The Ménagier de Paris recommends it for improving wine that "smells stale". Through the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period, the theory of the Four Humours governed theorizing about nourishment on the part of doctors, herbalists and druggists: in this context, "graynes of paradise, hoot & moyste þey be" John Russell observed, in The Boke of Nurture.
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.
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, gin and cordials".
Today it is largely unknown outside of West and North Africa, except for its use as a flavoring in some beers (including Samuel Adams Summer Ale), gins, and Norwegian aquavit.
In America, Grains of Paradise are starting to enjoy a slight resurgence in popularity due to their use by some well-known chefs. Alton Brown is a fan of its use, and he uses it in his apple pie recipe on an episode of the tv cooking show Good Eats. They are also used by people on certain diets, such as a raw-food diet, because they are less irritating to digestion than black pepper. Thanks wiki!
New York Times writer Amanda Hesser wrote, "I put a few between my teeth and crunched. They cracked like coriander releasing a billowing aroma, and then a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper at the back of my mouth. The taste changes in a second. The heat lingered. But the spice flavor was pleasantly tempered, ripe with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, and with the kind of oiliness you get from nuts. They were entirely different from black peppercorns and in my mind, incomparably better."