Do you know what Alligator Pepper is?
If yes, kudos! Otherwise, you are definitely missing out on this amazing gift of nature. But before shedding light on some amazing things you stand to gain from this unique pepper, let me just quickly point out that we should count ourselves lucky for having numerous essential plants in our ecosystem. The point still remains that most plants are in use today due to their edible, medicinal and therapeutic properties. Basically, their medicinal attributes are based on some chemical substances that offer crucial physiological activities on human bodies. The most significant of these chemical constituents that are supported by researchers to be mostly secondary metabolites are flavonoids, tannins, alkaloids and phenolic compounds.
This further led to the overwhelming popularity of herbal products produced specifically from these medicinal plants. Alligator pepper is one of such medicinal plant that has become of great importance in our lives. Alligator pepper, which is botanically known as Aframomum melegueta is a popular herbaceous perennial plant that is originally from West Africa in countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Cote D’ivoire, Sierra Leone, Togo, Gambia and Ghana. It belongs to the zingiberaceae or ginger family and thrives mainly in swampy habitats especially in the West African coasts.
The seeds of the alligator pepper are similar to the grains of paradise however alligator pepper seeds are usually sold enclosed with the pods while the grains of paradise are sold as single seeds. Alligator pepper is also known as hepper pepper, mbongo spice, Afrika kakulesi, melegueta pepper, ginny papper, Guinea pepper or atare. The tree grows about 1 meter tall with narrow lanceolate leaves that have similar appearance with the bamboo leaves. The leaves are located at the base of the shoots on short peduncles with labellum and bracts that enclose the developing flowers. The fruit is distinguished by its ovoid shape with reddish colour when fresh however, the colour changes to brown when dry.
The skin of the fruit has close similarity with the back of an alligator and this suggests the origin of its name. The fruit contains many small brownish seeds with sharp peppery, bitter, pungent and aromatic flavour. The fruit encloses the seeds, which are sealed with inner thin papery whitish skin. It’s strong pungent, peppery taste is as a result of its aromatic ketones and high tannin content. Alligator pepper is a highly valuable spice as a result of its high medicinal and nutritive values, for example, the phytochemicals derived from its seeds are being used since time immemorial for treating several diseases. Apart from medicinal purposes, alligator pepper is usually snacked upon and used for culinary purposes.
1. Consumption Purposes
Alligator pepper is a popular spice that is normally snacked upon especially by elders and sometimes youths. In traditional meetings and events such as baby naming ceremonies, traditional marriages, burial ceremonies, town meetings etc, the alligator pepper is usually served together with kola nuts and peanut butter (ósè ọ́jị́) as part of the customary rites.
Both the seeds and leaves can also be used for garnishing salads and for preparing assorted dishes such as pepper soup, stews, chicken and lamb dishes etc. It’s hot peppery and pungent flavour augments dishes and makes them spicy. While cooking, alligator pepper can be substituted with black pepper, grains of paradise, piper guineense or black cardamom. The seeds are usually ground before adding to dishes as they tend to be a little bit hard. Furthermore, the beer industry normally uses the alligator pepper for strengthening and flavouring alcoholic beverages such as gin, beer, wine and ale.
2. Anti-oxidizing Properties Alligator pepper seeds are an excellent source of phytonutrients such as terpenoids, alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, cardiac glycosides, saponin and phenolic compound. They scavenge for free radicals and offer protections against viruses, allergens, microbes, platelet aggregation, tumors, ulcers and hepatotoxins (chemical liver damage) in the body. This suggests why it is commonly used in folk medicine for preventing and tackling intestinal problems.
3. Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders The seeds extracts of the alligator pepper can be used for treating gastrointestinal disorders such as stomach pain, diarrhea, ulcer and intestinal worms.
4. Wound Healing The seeds can be crushed and used for preparing concoctions for treating and healing wounds. Alligator pepper contains a high amount of tannin that is distinguished by its stringent property and as such it is very effective for healing wounds, treating burns and soothing inflamed mucous membrane.
5. Antimicrobial Properties The seed extract has antimicrobial properties due to its constituents of phenolic compounds that are normally used as disinfectants. Studies reveal that Aframomum melegueta extract is broad spectrum and as such has inhibitory effect on the growth of bacteria such as Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonia etc.
6. Aphrodisiac Properties Studies reveal that the alligator pepper is aphrodisiac in nature thus can be used for stimulating sexual desires.
7. Anti-inflammatory Properties The seed has anti-inflammatory properties due to its constituent of gingerol that inhibits the leukotriene and prostaglandins synthesis. It offers protection against inflammation of the body.
8. Analgesic Properties The aqueous extract of the plant is analgesic in nature and as such can be used for relieving and alleviating pains such as joint pain, toothache, stomach pain, arthritic pain and rheumatoid pain.
9. Dermatological Care Alligator pepper can be used for preparing herbal remedy for treating infectious skin diseases such as measles, chickenpox and smallpox.
10. Stimulating Properties Due to its stimulating properties and peppery pungent taste, the alligator pepper is normally chewed as a stimulant to keep the body alert.
11. Malaria Treatment The leaves are used for preparing herbal medicines for preventing and treating malaria.
12. Digestive Properties The seeds aid easy digestion of food thereby preventing constipation and bloating.
Side Effects of Alligator Pepper
There are no recorded side effects of the alligator pepper, however, pregnant and lactating mothers are encouraged not to consume it based on the following reasons; An experiment by Inegbenebor et al., (2009) show that high dosage of alligator pepper administered to pregnant rats led to the termination of their first trimester pregnancies. Based on this report, pregnant women in their first trimester are highly recommended to refrain from eating the alligator pepper in other to avoid miscarriages. Uloneme et al., (2014) agree that lactating mothers should avoid taking alligator pepper in high quantities as it can reduce the prolactin secretion. Prolactin is a hormone released from the pituitary gland that stimulates milk production after childbirth. No doubt that breast milk is essential for newborn babies as it offers them immunity and nutrition before they are of age to easily eat and digest solid foods.