Melegueta Pepper

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

melegueta pepper the spice from a W. African plant, Aframomum melegueta. Where Spanish influence is at work, the spelling in English has sometimes been malagueta or malaguetta. The spice has also been known as grains of paradise or Guinea grains or pepper.

The plant itself is a tall, reedlike herb which bears red or orange fruits 5–10 cm (2–4") long. Each contains 60–100 brownish seeds, which are aromatic and pungent and which constitute the spice.
Melegueta pepper was unknown to the classical world, but acquired popularity in Europe from the 13th century onwards. This interest, for a long time so strong that the part of W. Africa from which it was shipped was known as the Grain Coast, was already declining in the 18th century and is now slight. However, the seeds continue to be used as a spice and for medicinal purposes in W. Africa, and the pulp surrounding them in the fruits is chewed as a stimulant.