Alligator pepper and grains of paradise are actually the same spice, but with one key difference: grains of paradise are sold as the seeds only while alligator pepper includes the whole pod. It gets its name from the fact that the texture of the pod can be likened to that of an alligator’s back. Alligator pepper is a relative of ginger and of black cardamom, the latter being another spice that is sold in its pod.
The perennial plant from which alligator pepper comes is originally from West Africa and is found in countries like Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone to name a few. The spice has been in use since ancient times; early Europeans who mentioned it include Pliny, who some historians believe to have coined the “grains of paradise” appellation due to its value.
Later on in European history, grains of paradise found use as a cheaper substitute for black peppercorns. England’s Queen Elisabeth I was said to have flavored her beer with alligator pepper seeds.
Flavor profile of alligator pepper
The flavor is often described as a slightly more complex version of black pepper’s flavor, but without all of that spice’s intensity. Along with the peppery flavor, alligator pepper offers a combination of flavor notes and an aroma that are reminiscent of cardamom and clove. It’s a little nutty, earthy, and even slightly citrusy.
Health benefits of alligator pepper
Alligator pepper provides multiple health benefits that come from its abundance of nutritious compounds, which include:
- Minerals: Alligator pepper is a good source of various minerals including calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Calcium and magnesium are both essential for bone health; in fact, our bodies use magnesium to assimilate calcium into our bones. The mineral also is also used in the kidneys to activate vitamin D.
- Amino acids: The amino acids found in alligator pepper include l-Threonine. Amino acids are used to build proteins. Humans must get L-threonine from dietary sources as our bodies are unable to synthesize it. This particular amino acid’s main role is as a precursor to glycine, which is important for building connective tissue. Alligator pepper is also a source of glycine.
- Antioxidants: Among the reasons for alligator pepper’s health benefits are the many antioxidants it contains. These compounds come in the form of flavonoids, tannins and terpenoids. They provide benefits that include scavenging free radicals in the body that can cause inflammation.
You can use alligator pepper to treat a range of health conditions, including:
- Wounds: Practitioners of West African tribal medicine have used alligator pepper since ancient times. The seeds have antiviral and antibacterial properties that make them useful for treating wounds and burns as well as for relieving pain.
- Gastrointestinal ailments: Alligator pepper’s antimicrobial benefits extend to the treatment of intestinal issues that result from food poisoning. Diarrhea and intestinal worms are among the problems that this spice is often used to treat.
- High blood pressure: Studies have found that alligator pepper can lower blood pressure. One 2015 study found that it was able to lower blood pressure to a normal range in 76 percent of subjects with hypertension.
Common uses of alligator pepper
In West Africa, alligator pepper is used along with black pepper in soups and meat dishes. Another traditional use is to sprinkle it over cooked rice and other foods as a finishing spice. It is often included in spice blends such as the Moroccan version of ras el hanout and the Tunisian Qalat dagga.