Grains of Paradise comes from a leafy plant native to West Africa. This name was given to them by spice traders in the middle ages who were trying to inflate the price. They claimed that these special peppers only grew in Eden, and that they were collected as the floated down the rivers out of paradise. Grains of Paradise are now hard to find and costly, but hundreds of years ago they were a cheaper substitute for black pepper.
Alton Brown favors these seeds with Okra (as seen on his recent show "Okraphobia", where he makes okra and tomatoes with grains of paradise, and lentil soup). We absolutely love Grains of Paradise mixed with Tellicherry black pepper and ground out of a pepper grinder onto steaks to make a variation on steak au poivre. These seeds are lovely ground over any dish you would normally grind straight black pepper onto.
Grains of Paradise became popular after A New York Times article by Amanda Hesser was published. She 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."