Alligator Pepper is not a very common spice.
It is a member of the ginger family, it's scientific name is "Afromomium meleguata". It is also sometimes 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, such as medicine and as an accompaniment to kola nut.
Despite what a lot of people believe, grains of paradise is actually a little different from Alligator Pepper. The two spices are so closely related that they are often called the same name. The difference between the two is that one is the seeds only (grains of paradise) while alligator pepper is sold as an entire pod including the seeds. Apart from that, the taste and characteristics are pretty much the same.
As the name suggests, 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 flavour, 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 flavour vegetables and is a great accompaniment to pumpkins, okras and potatoes.
When a baby is born in Africa, more specifically the Yoruba culture, a small amount of the pepper is given to them to taste a few 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 travelling (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 used to the taste, you can then use 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.