Grains of Selim
The term Grains of Selim refers to the seeds of a shrubby tree, Xylopia aethiopica, found in Africa. It is also known as kimba pepper, African pepper, Moor pepper, Negro pepper, Kani pepper, Kili pepper, Sénégal pepper, Ethiopian pepper, Hwentia and Guinea pepper. The seeds have a musky flavor and are used as a pepper substitute. It is sometimes confused with grains of paradise.
As a spice the whole fruit (seed pod) is used as the hull of the fruit lends an aromatic note (with the taste being described as an admixture of cubeb pepper and nutmeg with overtones of resin) whilst the seeds lend pungency (they are also quite bitter). Typically the dried fruit is lightly crushed before being tied in a bouquet garni and added to West African soups (stews). In Sénégal, the spice is often sold smoked in markets as Poivre de Sénégal (the whole green fruit is smoked giving the spice a sticky consistency) and when pounded in a pestle and mortar it makes an excellent fish rub. These, however, tend to be the larger pods of the related species Xylopia striata.
In West African cookbooks, especially those from Cameroon, the spice is referred to as kieng, but the language that name is derived from is unknown.
Use in cuisine
The pods are crushed and added whole to soups or stews, then removed before serving the food. Smoked pods can be ground before being used as a spice rub for fish.
In northern Cameroon it is one of three spices added to tea, along with dried ginger and cloves.
The grains are a key ingredient in Touba Coffee (called Café Touba in French). Near the end of the roasting phase of making the coffee, Grains of Selim are added while the heat is still on. Roasting continues for approximately five more minutes; during this time the sneeze-producing scent of pepper becomes easily discernible.
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