Spices are best described as the dried parts of aromatic plants whose qualities are perceived through smell and taste. As well as their more obvious function in flavoring food, spices have a profound effect on health, affecting many functional processes of the body. Because they act as anti-oxidants, they are essential in the preservation of foods.
Since ancient times, a flourishing sea-going trade has existed between the nations surrounding the Indian Ocean. Goods from Indonesia, Malaysia and India have been arriving on the coast of East Africa for centuries, borne on wooden dhows sailing the monsoon winds that blow across this region. It is certain that spices from Asia arrived in Zanzibar this way long before the dawn of the European spice merchants.
Early in the sixteenth century Portuguese traders established a base on Zanzibar as part of their plan to control East Africa. They imported various plants, including spices, from their colonies in South America and India. Land was cleared for plantations, but the Portuguese never really developed their presence on Zanzibar beyond a military one.
It was left to the Omani Arabs, who ruled Zanzibar from the early eighteenth century, to develop Zanzibar economically as a spice-producing entity. Sultan Seyyid Said, the first Omani sultan to govern Zanzibar, quickly realized the potential of his new dominion, with its hot climate and regular rainfall, as a location for spice farming.
He encouraged in particular the planting of clove trees on his own plantations, and issued a decree to other landowners that for each coconut tree on their farms, two clove trees must be planted. Soon Zanzibar had become a major producer of spices. With the demise of the slave trade in the late nineteenth century, spices became Zanzibar’s main source of income.
When the era of the Sultans ended and the long arm of the British Empire reached Zanzibar, the islands new colonial ‘protectors’ encouraged the farming of spices and other useful plants, bringing in European scientists to found experimental agricultural stations and government farms such as those at Kizimbani and Kindichi. Today these areas still contain spice plantations controlled by the modern, independent Tanzanian government.
But spices in Zanzibar today are by no means simply the preserve of governments keen to produce cash-rich export products or a useful tourist attraction. For the ordinary people of Zanzibar, spices and useful plants are a vital part of everyday life and a rich element in the island’s strong and vibrant culture.
The spices grown in village kitchen gardens give their flavor to the distinctive cuisine of Zanzibar, provide innumerable cures for everyday ailments, and yield the dyes and cosmetic products needed to celebrate weddings and festivals.
From the dark-red stain of henna on a bride’s hands, to the coconut-palm roof of a newly-constructed house, or the sweet aroma of cloves drying in the sun, spices and useful plants are woven into the fabric of life and culture of these fascinating islands. Touch, taste and smell the spices that grow here, and you’ll be on your way to understanding the true nature of Zanzibar.
On this Journey we went with Ofir and Zohar at a local farm known as “Maganga Spice Farm” in Kizimbani Area, just outside the Stone Town. Our Spice Guide was Mr. Khamis a very knowledgeable guide and passionate as well.
Mr. Khamis, Spice Tour Guide.
So we started the tour with unusual incidence were the guests visited local kitchen and went to pick vegetables, grind them and helped in preparation of the lunch.
So we started the tour with a stop at the Lipstick fruit. It is used by local young girls and women to color their lips. It is an important part in many local cerebrations including marriage ceremonies.
The tour went on, we were able to see the followings;
Black pepper is so commonly used that nobody would even think it has health benefits. The little kick you taste when you eat something that has black pepper in it helps to improve your digestion. Black pepper has also been shown to have antioxidant and antibiotic benefits, not to mention it tastes wonderful on almost everything. So, don’t be afraid to add a little shake of black pepper on your next meal.
Ginger has an interesting taste and after you try it, it makes everything better. Ginger adds a sweet-but-spicy kick to sushi, green juices, and smoothies. It has a strong smell and taste, but it can work wonders on an upset stomach or indigestion. Chewing on a little bit of raw ginger can even help relieve sore joints.
Cardamom, a spice usually found in Indian cuisine, has so many health benefits that it is seen in some cultures as a natural medicine for ulcers, digestive problems, and even depression. Eating this spice will help to detoxify your kidneys, fight a cold or flu, and even potentially cure hiccups. I love the flavour of cardamom in chicken curry and Vietnamese pho noodle soup.
Vanilla is a prima donna. A type of orchid, it flowers only once a year. So there no time for a bee to find it. A farmer has to pollinate it by hand, with a stick, flower by flower.
The farmer only has one chance to pollinate, Khamis says, because if the temperamental bloom has not been touched by noon, it dies, just hours after it blossomed. And no pods will ever emerge.
After nine months of maturing, the pods need even more careful attention: They have to be boiled and dried in the direct sun for only one hour. Prima donna indeed. And thus expensive. That’s why the vanilla in your coffee is probably synthetic imitation made in a lab.
This is nutmeg, used in cake and coffee and also locally in nutmeg porridge, an alleged aphrodisiac. “If your husband is not around, don’t eat nutmeg porridge,” says Khamis. Such is the power of the nutmeg powder.
Break-line, the Spice Tour is highly recommended. See the rest correction of picture and try to guess many other spices not listed above.
Here is our short gallery