Botanical Name : Aframomum meleguetta K. Schum.
Family : Zingiberaceae
Commercial name : Meleguetta pepper Gains of Paradise, Guinea Pepper, Alligator Pepper
Local Names (Liberia & Ghana) : Sensuo, Sler, Baaba, Wehbli, fomwisa
Botanical and Historical Background
Meleguetta pepper is a tufted, leafy, herbaceous perennial (Fig.1). The plant has a short, scaly rhizome with a surface root system. The stem is 0.9 to 1.2 m high, covered by leaf sheaths up to 2 m in length, with alternate and sessile leaves, continuing into a sheath of the stem. The large purple to pink flowers are trumped shaped with a single stamen. Fruits are ovoid in shape and tapered to a point, surrounded by a permanent calyx. Matured fruit is red and contains a white pulp that surrounds the 1200 to 2000 seeds. In West Africa, flowering begins in September and fruiting in December. Seeds are small (0.4 to 0.5 cm long), highly aromatic with grainy testa and white kernel, and have a very hot taste (Dokosi, 1998). Aframomum thrives in the forest areas of West Africa.
Meleguetta pepper or Aframomum is a spice native to tropical West Africa. In the 13th Century, traders from West Africa carried this spice across the desert to sell in Tripoli and later to Italy. The Italians called it “Grains of Paradise” because of its high value, and the secrecy of the country of its origin. Europe acquired a taste for the spice as a substitute for real pepper (Enti, 1988). In England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, many foodstuffs and drinks were flavored with Grains of Paradise along with other spices such as cinnamon and ginger. While its popularity in Europe declined over time, its use in West and North African continues. In North Africa, the extract of the pepper, mixed with other ingredients like butter, honey, peanuts and almonds, is used in after-dinner coffee. The spice is also used to flavor rum and brandy. In Liberia and other West African countries the seeds are widely mixed with other herbs for the treatment of body pains and rheumatism.