If you’re in Zanzibar, it’s well worth a trip to the spice plantation, a lush forest of fruit trees, grasses and herbs and a total eye-opener about how far removed we are in the Western world about where our food, spices and in some cases our every day medicinal remedies come from.
Our tour guide, Isaac walked us through the dense vegetation and at each point asked us to identify various trees and fruit. We eat a LOT of fruit at home, but even we struggled at some. Isaac was impressed that we identified durian, jackfruit and passionfruit but it was hard to identify really exotic fruits like paw paw (papaya), custard apple and breadfruit.
Once we had smelled various things like cinnamon bark, curry leaves, cloves, ginger and tumeric, we could instantly tell what it was, but I had no idea really how they were grown nor would be able to identify them in the wild.
Who knew that vanilla grew on vines and looks like string beans? Or that they take 7 years until they start to grow the valuable vanilla pods? I only see these things when they are either completely dried out or flown half way across the world while still unripe.
It was really informative learning about how each spice is harvested. Cloves, for example are Tanzania’s biggest cash crop (and second highest national earner after tourism). Each bunch of green cloves grow high up in massive, tall green trees. They must be harvested by hand and then sold to the government who have monopoly over the export of the dried cloves.
We tried a bit of everything, either sniffing crushed leaves or nibbling at green shoots and pods. It would be so cool to have a forest like this in your backyard. Crush up some tumeric to get rid of pimples, chew on a clove pod for toothache or bad breath, boil some of the cinnamon root to clear your sinuses (it’s the main ingredient in Vicks vapor rub) or even the “Lipstick” fruit for a natural red stain for lips and cheeks. Pretty fascinating stuff.
At the end of our tour we got a taste test. Someone climbed a tree to retrieve a fresh green coconut for us (watch the video to see how incredibly high it was) and just used a machete to open it right there. Really cold, fresh and delicious, better than anything in a bottle. Then a huge array of freshly picked fruit sliced in front of us – papaya, bitter lemon, grapefruit, passion fruit, mini bananas, tangerine, cucumber and more. Probably the freshest and healthiest fruit we’ve ever had and it looked completely different to the too-perfect and improbably coloured fruit we get at home.
There’s a shop to buy all the dried spices made from the plantation, as well as millions of types of flavoured teas and coffees, so we got some to drink on the road (no point buying spices if we won’t be cooking for six months). They also make their own oils, such as jasmine and lemongrass (wards off mosquitos) and soaps too.
Lastly, we got some personally woven souvenirs, bags, earrings, necklaces and crowns made from woven palm leaves.
It’s free to get into the plantation and get a guided a tour, but you will be expected to tip virtually everyone there, your guide obviously, but also the fruit guy and the coconut climber (fair enough, you wouldn’t expect this to be free) and then the weaver guy too, so make sure you come with enough small notes for everyone, and then some extra if you want to purchase anything.
If you’re staying at Breezes, Baraza or the Palms, it’s about a 30 minute ride away and can be organised through reception as part of the city tour.