The Spices of Zanzibar

The spice farm tour is a classic of the Zanzibar tourist, where groups are escorted through a farm from plant to plant tasting seeds and berries and learning about their local histories. There's a fruit tasting at the end, where one of the farmboys shimmies up a tree to cut down coconuts, performing acrobatic feats of strength on his way up and down to illicit oohs and aahs from the clusters of wide-brimmed tourists down below. Finally, there's a market full of the dried spices to cart home with you, to mix into your favorite Zanzibarian recipes.

 Pepper plant

Pepper plant

The most fascinating part about spices, other than seeing what they look like in their most natural form, is learning their medicinal uses — the guide knew something for almost every single one of them. So you can literally eat for your health!

Allspice

Used for digestive problems and sometimes for pain relief, from something minor like a toothache or menstrual cramps.

Bush Mint

Literally what it sounds like— a type of mint that comes in a bush form, used mostly for essential oils.

Cardamom

Chewed to function as a breath freshener, and can actually be smoked. There are two kinds, black and green, and the green is one of the most expensive spices by weight in the world.

CINNAMON

Famously made from the bark of a tree, and known as the Queen of Spices, married Clove — the king. Used to cure bowel problems or stimulate appetite.

Clove

The most famous spice of Zanzibar, the country that used to be one of it's biggest exporters (which has now gone to Indonesia). It's referred to as the King of Spices, and contains an oil called eugenol, which acts as a food preservative. It's antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and the islanders of old inserted cloves into the space left by a removed tooth.

Curry

Green curry leaves were famed are valued in traditional ayurvedic medicine, reported as having anti-diabetic properties.

Ginger

Used to combat nausea and stomach problems and to improve circulation.

LEMONGRASS

Handy for repelling mosquitos, when burned.

 

Nutmeg and Mace

Come from the same tree, and have similar uses in cooking. Nutmeg was famous for increasing sex drive in women. The red part is dried in the sun and ground to produce the spice.

Pepper

grows on a vine — the spice a flowering fruit, referred to as a peppercorn when dried. The different kinds you see, red and green and black and white, are the plant picked at different stages of maturity.

Turmeric

Is one of the most fun, a tuber that is used to dye food yellow, and which leaves traces all over your hands. Medicinally used as an antiseptic.

Vanilla

Delicious sweet spice that's a type of orchid, the only fruit-bearing one of the family.

And the tour isn't only spices — fruit is a huge part of it. The paths through the forest are covered with large trees full of colorful fruits. They also fall to the ground, slightly rotted and fertilizing the soil. They're a bit easier to taste than the spices, which mostly you experience by the tactile and olfactory senses, grinding them up with your fingers to release the scent. With fruit, it's just a taste, and there's avocado, breadfruit, guava, jackfruit, lime, lychee, orange (Mandarine, Seville, and Tangerine), papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, plum, red banana, soursop, starfruit, and something called a Zanzibar apple.

 Mystery fruit and delicious limes

Mystery fruit and delicious limes

 Nutmeg and Annato

Nutmeg and Annato

 Passion fruit and guava

Passion fruit and guava

Almond

The perennially popular nut, which originally was poisonous to eat, but which was bread over thousands of years to be digested.

Annatto

The fruit produces a red/orange dye from the achiote tree, also used in a similar way to turmeric, to color food.

BETEL

The leaf of a vine used in tons of primarily South Asian countries to chew on, producing a bit of a high as well as a bright red expectorate.

Cacao

A huge tree that produces the beans in handy pods, which are then removed, dried, and roasted for a delicious snack.

 Coconut sampling and a mystery fruit

Coconut sampling and a mystery fruit

COFFEE

Not a huge producer of the caffeinated beverage, but you can find a coffee plant here or there, buried among the fruit trees.

Henna

Henna is famously used to create beautiful patterns on skin, but was also used to attempt to incite natural abortions.

Teak wood

One of the most famous kinds of wood around, brownish red and largely found and exported from Myanmar. 

Ylang Ylang

A source of glorious perfume and essential oil, derived from a climbing vine-based plant featuring nice yellow flowers.

Zanzibar was on the spice route for hundreds of years, so it's cultural and culinary influences are diverse, which is part of what makes it so amazing. European, Arabian, Indian food. Here's a nice sample menu sampling the best spices on the island:

OCTOPUS CURRY

Octopus, potatoes and onions spiced with cinnamon, pepper, cumin, and garlic. Add a little coconut, maybe a couple of carrots or tomatoes, any veggies you have lying around.

Pilau

Rice cooked in broth with garlic, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Add onions and a bit of meat, and you've got what's probably the most famous dishes on the island.

Spice Cake

Mix a little brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and vanilla, and you have basically the solid version of chai. Something sweet to top it all off.