I think it’s safe to say that Zanzibar is spicy place. And by that I mean it’s full of spices and has been an exporter of spices for centuries. In the 19th century, Zanzibar was the world’s leading exporter in cloves when they were all the rage, because the Omani Sultan Seyyid Said seized (what he deemed to be) unoccupied land and gave it to people who would turn it into clove plantations.
Anyway, on our last day in Zanzibar, we started off the morning with a tour of a spice farm. As we walked through the farm, our guide first showed us jackfruit trees and breadfruit trees. The jackfruit are these huge, green, alien-like fruits that grow along the trunk. Our guide climbed one of the many cinnamon trees and sliced off pieces of bark for us to smell and taste. He said that you must slice the bark vertically so that it grows back. If you slice it horizontally, it won’t. There were pineapples all over the place, but I never knew that they grew out of the ground on little plants. I just always assumed that they grew on trees. When he showed us peppercorn, he said that green, white, and black peppercorn all come from the same plant. Black is the cooked and dried unripe fruit, green is the dried unripe fruit, and white is the unripe fruit seed.
One of the plants I found really interesting was the annatto of the achiote tree. It’s also called “natural lipstick” and the achiote tree is sometimes called “lipstick tree.” The outside of the fruit pod looks reddish-pink and hairy and inside are the seeds which are each surrounded by what’s called the pericarp. The pericarp can be smeared to a reddish-orange paste which you can then use as lipstick or body paint, which my friends did on the tour. It’s also used for food coloring and flavor.
Our guide let us sample some hot peppers, which were spicier than a lot of people were prepared for! We also sampled Zanzibari apples, which were white and pink. They were crisp like apples, but not sweet. We saw starfruit and plantains, but we didn’t try them. But we did get to try cacao. Our guide cracked open a cacao pod and we each took a seed. You don’t eat the seeds; you eat the fleshy white fruit around them, which is slightly sweet and tart. He split one of the seeds and showed us the inside which is where the cacao comes from. He said that it’s incredibly bitter, so we wouldn’t even want to eat it.
We saw some wild green fruits hanging from a tree, but our guide told us they weren’t for eating. Oh well. Back to the spices. They showed us the cardamon, cloves, vanilla (which is part of the orchid family), ginger, and lemongrass plants. The lemongrass was incredibly nice and it can be used in tea, oil, and as insect repellent, which in Tanzania, you really need because of the number of mosquitos.
Throughout the tour, one of the boys made trinkets and bracelets out of thick grass and passed them out to us. He even made little glasses out of pineapple leaves.
Our final treat of the tour was fresh coconut water and meat. Our guide climbed a coconut tree barefoot while singing “Jambo,” a popular (and possibly really touristy?) Tanzanian song that I had heard all over the island. They made us all step back, because a coconut to the head can seriously injure and even kill you! The coconut was so amazing. I wasn’t expecting much after the coconut I had had the night before at Forodhani Gardens, but this one was fresh off the tree.
We returned to the main entrance and our driver took us to a nearby village to buy spices and have lunch. The packages of whole cinnamon sticks were gone in the blink of an eye, but I managed to buy some curry powders, tea, and other spices. I avoided the ground coffee, because I was still wary that it wasn’t fresh. We sat on mats they had laid out on the floor and ate lunch. It was a simple meal: spinach, a curried vegetable soup with tomatoes and potatoes, and basmati rice seasoned with cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, cardamom, and probably a few other spices I couldn’t name. It was cool that the meal was seasoned with all the spices we had seen and tasted on the tour, It was hard to stop eating the rice. It wasn’t complicated, but it was absolutely delicious. Once we were all full from the meal, we all piled back into the bus and headed to a nearby beach. I forget the name of this specific spice tour, but it was the full package!