Not a very common spice. It is a member of the ginger family, alligator pepper, with the scientific name “Afromomium meleguata” and is also known as grains of paradise, hepper pepper or mbongo spice. It is a North African spice and is used in Africa not only in food preparation but also in cultural practices, as medicine and as an accompaniment to kola nut.
But guess what, grains of paradise is a little different from it, they are so closely related that it is also called the same name, the difference with the two is that grains of paradise is sold as only seeds while alligator pepper is sold as an entire pod which contains the seed, apart from that the taste and characteristics are but the same.
As the name suggest, the fruit and the seeds have a texture and appearance like that of an alligators back. It has a hot spicy taste and aroma which is popularly used in West African soups and stews. A very expensive spice and should be used sparingly because of its strong flavor, it is a popular ingredient in the famous pepper pot soup which is a specialty and great delight in West Africa. Your grains of paradise can also be used to flavor vegetables and is a great accompaniment to pumpkins, okras and potatoes.
And listen this, when a baby is born in Africa, more specifically the Yoruba culture, a small amount of the pepper is given to them to taste, this is done minutes after they are born. It is said to be a welcoming process for the baby. It is also used as a traditional wedding gift in the same Yoruba culture where it is a very important spice.
The alligator pepper is served with kola nut to guest which can be chewed together. Because of the hot spicy taste, it enhances or reduces the bitter taste from the kola nut.
The grains of paradise is also said to have some health benefits and other uses which includes:
- as a cure to malaria fever (the leaves)
- used to treat wounds and prevent infection (the seeds)
- as a protection against accidents when swallowed before embarking on traveling (the seeds)
- to improve the state of drunkenness (the seeds)
- has great digestive properties (the seeds)
You may not come across a lot of recipes which include alligator pepper, but what you could do though is to include it in dishes you would normally use black pepper, cardamon, and cinnamon. Once you get more use to the taste, you can then make your own judgement as to which foods to add it to. Even though this spice is not the most popular from the list of spices, I’m sure you will find good use of it, no why not just add it to your list.