Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter

The spice markets of Lagos, Nigeria, can be thrilling places to visit, with merchants selling calabash nutmeg, alligator pepper, and dozens of other spices. Bags of these spices are piled high atop one another, their fragrance intermingling in the humid air.While the names of the spices are probably unfamiliar to your ears, they resonate with flavors your taste buds have encountered on other journeys. A great way to try them is in compound butter; the butter serves as a creamy blank canvas, delivering the exotic flavors in an approachable way that invites you to keep tasting.In the first recipe, Ehuru and Wildflower Honey Butter, calabash nutmeg (also known as ehuru) is paired with wildflower honey. Every year my mom gets a batch of honey harvested from Kafanchan, a town in Kaduna State, north of Lagos. The honey is dark like molasses and tastes like it was filtered through toasted millet. Now, I’m aware that most people can’t get Kafanchan honey here in America, but a wildflower or even buckwheat honey will do. You want a honey that is more robust than sweet to match the earthy, caramelly taste of the calabash nutmeg, also known as ehuru. A typical nutmeg this is not; its flavor reveals both savory and sweet—coriander and cumin, with an aroma of frankincense and a hint of cedarwood. It may seem like an unnecessary step to toast the seeds, but this helps loosen the nut from its shell and bloom the oils of the spice.The Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, on the other hand, is more of a wake-up call to the senses: lime leaves lend a bright and floral citrus-y accent to the slow-burning sharpness of the pepper. Typically sold as whole dried pods, alligator peppers are not solely consigned to the kitchen. A little taste of the pungently peppery seeds with notes of cardamom and citrus (similar in flavor to grains of paradise) are served to welcome guests for a variety of occasions and ceremonies in both Yoruba and Igbo culture. I still remember a wooden bowl of the pods sitting on the coffee table in the living room of my childhood home, just waiting to be cracked open. This recipe reminds me of that same welcoming sentiment—I slather it on composed appetizers and toast slices for the guests who’ve just arrived at my dinners.These compound butters will work well as spreads for any kind of bread, on sandwich buns, and can also be used to finish grilled fish, roasted vegetables, and meat dishes. The only limit is your imagination.

Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter
Photo: Caitlin Bensel
Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
15 mins
1 1/2 cups


  • 1 alligator pepper pod or 1 tablespoon grains of paradise

  • 2 tablespoons chopped lime segments (from 1 lime)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (8 ounces), at room temperature

  • 2 Makrut lime leaves, cut into thin strips

  • 1 small garlic clove, minced

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (from 1 large shallot)

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt


  1. If using alligator pepper pod, crack open alligator pepper pod by pressing down on the pod with the flat side of your palm. Remove the seed pods from their shell. Separate the seed pods (there should be 3) and break to remove the seeds. Rub the pod pieces between your fingers onto a small baking sheet to separate the shaft from the seeds. Discard the shaft, and add seeds to a spice grinder. Process alligator pepper seeds or grains of paradise in a spice grinder until finely ground, about 15 seconds. Reserve about 3 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper; reserve remaining pepper for another use.

  2. Using a rubber spatula, fold together ground grains of paradise, chopped lime segments, butter, lime leaves, garlic, shallot, parsley, thyme, and sea salt until thoroughly blended. Transfer the butter into a serving vessel, and serve immediately. To store, spoon butter mixture onto a sheet of plastic wrap, roll into a log, and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week. Freeze, wrapped in plastic wrap, up to 1 month. Use this butter as a rub on meat or seafood before cooking, stir into steamed rice, or toss with warm roasted vegetables.

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