Aframomum melegueta is a member of the family Zingiberaceae which is popular for its distinct attributes as a spice used worldwide.
It is known as ataare in Yorubaland; internationally, it is known as grains of paradise, melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains and, sometimes, Guinea pepper which is often used for Xylopia aethiopica; a native spice which has been discussed in this column.
The stem of Aframomum is a rhizome ramifying into the soil and producing aerial shoots bearing alternate lanceolate leaves at the nodes of the underground rhizomes. The flowers are located basally on the rhizomes; they are coloured and produce flask-shaped fruits which are capsules bearing small seeds tightly-packed in loose paper-like linings as shown in the picture.
The brown seeds are the source of the spicy compounds.
Alligator pepper is sold as the entire pod containing the seeds (in the same manner to another close relative, black cardamom). The English name, alligator pepper, becomes obvious when the pod is opened to reveal the seeds which have a papery skin enclosing them and the bumps of the seeds within this skin looking like that of an alligator’s back.
Its usage cuts across cultures. There is no record that A.melegueta (Grains of paradise) was substituted for alligator pepper under this cultural uses but its culinary uses may be substituted. It is mostly used as pepper soup ingredient.
Apart from cooking with it, I chew it, though it is very hot and spicy. I once advised a man to be chewing alligator pepper to boost his sperm count but he refused on the ground that alligator pepper is used for fetish reasons. On this platform, my mandate is to discuss the phytonutrients in plants and their benefits to our health, not their spiritual usage. I will not renege on this promise.
Alligator pepper is a worm expellant, a diuretic; it heals wounds and treats malaria. Traditionally, it is used to treat fibroids, gastrointestinal disorders and it is good for dermatological care. It also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a sperm booster and an aphrodisiac; in fact, a preparation from it has received a United States patent as a potent aphrodisiac.
A study titled, ‘Hypotensive and Antihypertensive Effects of Aframomum melegueta Seeds in Humans,’ led by B.A.S Lawal in the International Journal of Pharmacology shows that the seeds exert a potent effect on the blood pressure in both normotensive and hypertensive subjects. This is good news for those who are hypertensive.
A Professor of Complementary Medicine, Osmond Ifeanyi Onyeka observed that scientists in Canada, of African origin, who were intrigued by the sexual vitality of certain tribes, discovered that alligator pepper was used as a spice to season food and was the source of this sexual vitality.
Let us see more of its health benefits:
Alligator pepper seeds are an excellent source of phytonutrients such as terpenoids, alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, cardiac glycosides, saponin and phenolic compounds. They scavenge for free radicals and offer protection against viruses, allergens, microbes, platelet aggregation, tumors, ulcers and hepato-toxins (can cause chemical liver damage) in the body.
The seed extract has antimicrobial properties due to its constituents of phenolic compounds that are normally used as disinfectants. Studies reveal that alligator pepper extract has a broad spectrum of activity and as such has inhibitory effect on the growth of bacteria such as Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonia, etc.
In a study, researchers also tried to ascertain the potency of its extract in the prevention of many common disease-causing germs which include Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi and klebsiella pneumonia. These include germs that cause food poisoning, pneumonia, blood infections and other deadly diseases. The study was carried out by Doherty, V.
Funmilayo and Olaniran O. Oluwakemi all from the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and entitled “Antimicrobial Activities of Aframomum melegueta (Alligator Pepper)”and published in the July, 2010 issue of the International Journal of Biology. The study found that the seed extract of alligator pepper inhibited the growth of all the bacteria species tested, suggesting that the plant extract has broad spectrum in activity (acts against a wide range of disease-causing bacteria). Higher antimicrobial activity of the extracts was observed on E. coli, Klebsiella spp. and almonella spp. at high concentrations. The implication of this finding that alligator pepper was able to halt multiplication of the bacteria in the laboratory is that ataare, used as regular spice, can give the human body a chance to fight off disease-causing germs.
LOWERS BLOOD SUGAR
Alligator pepper is one seed individuals with diabetes might find useful in ensuring the regulation of their blood sugar, thus protecting them from complications of the disease such as blindness and limb amputation. Researchers in ascertaining the bloodsugar lowering effect of alligator pepper had 25 albino rats that were randomly divided into five groups of five rats each. Two control groups: non-diabetic (positive) and diabetic (negative) were administered tap water as vehicle solvent, throughout the duration of the experiment. The remaining three groups received 100 mg/kg of metformin (a diabetes drug) 200 and 400 mg/kg orally and aqueous seed extract of alligator pepper respectively and simultaneously.
The researchers, who evaluated the fasting blood glucose in these rats daily, found that oral administration of aqueous extract of alligator pepper to diabetic rats lowered blood glucose to normal level within six days of administration, while metformin (a diabetic drug) took 14 days. There was no significant difference in the duration of lowering the blood glucose by the two doses of extract administered, meaning that the effect was not dose-dependent.
Alligator Pepper may provide next weight loss, energy-boosting drug: Japanese researchers have discovered more novel applications for alligator pepper. The researchers in a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition tested the traditional West African herbal remedy and found that it increases thermogenesis (thermogenesis is the process of heat production in organisms; it occurs mostly in warm-blooded animals) and stimulates brown adipose tissue loss (brown adipose tissue can be difficult to reduce for those wanting to lose weight because it receives significant circulation).
The West African Journal of Pharmacology and Drug Research, a significant reduction in serum level of prolactin of wistar nonlactating rats treated with Alligator pepper seed was observed. So, this supports its traditional use in weaning babies off breast milk.
Breastfeeding mothers are to stay off this spice.
Another study titled, ‘Abortifacient properties of alligator pepper (Aframomum melegueta) seeds,’ in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bio-resources by Ute Inegbenebor et al. concluded that it could be utilised in fertility clinics as a safe abortifacient if the mother’s life is seriously endangered by the pregnancy. So, pregnant women in their first trimester are advised to refrain from eating alligator pepper to avoid miscarriages.
@ OLUFUNKE @ Punch Newspaper