Spice Farm Tour in Zanzibar
By Dorianne Mallia
Spice Farms are definitely one of the must visit attractions when in Zanzibar. These are pockets of jungle where fruits and spices grow in the wild and are harvested by Zanzibari communities. In spice farms you find a fascinating array of cloves and cinnamon, growing beside grapefruit, bananas, and vanilla trees, together with a wide range of spices and tropical fruits one can only dream of.
We were given a cone-like holder made out of banana leaves, to put in the leaves and fruit we were collecting. We learnt so many new things on Zanzibar spices. During the walk, we met a man with a tiny stand selling natural balms and perfumes. One of the balms was made out of the aloe vera plant, and it came quite handy after getting sunburnt whilst snorkelling the day before. Another balm, the Zanzibar Cinnamon Root body lotion, is quite surprising, since I thought it would smell of cinnamon, but instead it smells like Vicks. Surprisingly the cinnamon root is in fact used for very different purposes than its culinary bark, since with its peppermint smell it is used in medicine, mainly to treat colds! They had also these tiny glass vials filled with essential oil perfumes made out of the wild flowers gathered from the forest.
As soon as we left Nungwi, heading down to Stone Town, we drove off to one of the many spice farms in the area. The farm we visited was called Maganga and the name of our guide was Ali Baba. The first thing he jokingly said was that his name truly is Ali Baba but that he had no forty thieves.
Moving on, we headed off to some tall coconut trees, and a boy cut three coconuts for us, 'Zanzibari Coca-Cola' he said, and we drank the cool and refreshing coconut water. In the meantime the boy who had cut open the coconuts was making some accessories from long leaves which he then donated to us.
Getting the coconuts from the tall trees is a very difficult task, but for the local people it seemed like going up a flight of stairs. With monkey-like motions and just a short dirty white rope to use as a foothold, this agile young boy started climbing up the tall thin trunk of the coconut tree. In the meantime he started singing at the top of his voice the famous Swahili song 'Hakunua Matata'.
Farmers on this farm take pride in fruit trees, as much as in spices. We were shown mango trees, papayas, mandarins, yellow and red banana, the pineapple plant which only grows one pineapple at a time, limes, cassava which is very commonly used in Tanzanian dishes, grapefruit, star fruit, and a strange fruit similar to pickled gherkins which tasted like sour cucumbers. During the tour we rested a bit in this tiny open hut for a coffee break, and were given various different fruit, including watermelon, oranges, passion fruit, mandarins, and some local grown coffee with a lovely ‘biscuit’ which tasted like nougat and nuts! We concluded this lovely tour by buying some spices, flavoured teas and coffees as souvenirs before heading to Stone Town.
Guided by Ali Baba, we entered a wild forest of spices, herbs and fruit. These fascinating trees and shrubs were beside each other and in a few metres you could see various and different types of spices and flowers, growing together. Our guide said that these plants all grow in the wild, without any help from humans...not even for water! They just harvest the produce. While going about passageways and round trees, Ali Baba kept testing us to see whether we could recognise the spice from the smell of the crushed leaves, or from the taste of the fruit. Some of them were familiar, but others were totally alien. I was fascinated and truly happy tasting the red pepper corns and the cloves, seeing the lovely fruit where the nutmeg is nestled with a thin rubbery red ‘protective net’. No part of the plant is wasted; everything is used for something in particular! We saw the vanilla, with its tall and thin black pods. The cardamom which are grown in the ground just like peanuts, the ginger root, turmeric, as well as the red cloves before they are dried and become the dark brown colour we are accustomed to seeing in packages in supermarkets. The curry leaves, which really and truly are green, but the curry powder becomes yellow because it is mixed with the deep yellow/orange colour of turmeric. There was also this particular tree, called the Achiote, or the lipstick tree, which the guide said is mainly used to make lipstick and body paint from the seeds found in the red furry fruit.