Spices the Essence of Zanzibar

‘ The air was filled with the amazing spicy-sweet scent of cloves, and I stood by the rail at the old Arab town and thinking what a lucky young fellow I was to be seeing all these marvellous places’

-Roald Dahl in his memoirs ‘Going Solo’

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Green cloves picked from the tree

This quote by Roald Dahl sums up my feelings during our recent visit to Zanzibar of which one of the highlights was a visit to a spice farm.

Zanzibar is infused with the essence of spices.The scent of cinamon coffee, the delicious spicy smell of Swahili cooking which combines Arabian, African, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Persian flavours, the rich glamorous smell of essential oils, all mingle and contribute to a sensual experience found only here.

A visit to a spice farm in the Kidichi area is an experience involving all the senses. As  the spice farmer leads the way, he cuts, crushes, peels, opens pods and invites the visitor to taste, feel, smell, see  and take a guess at the treasure he reveals.

From the vibrant lipstick tree with bright red flowers to treasures hidden underneath the soil such as turmeric and ginger and the mysteriously big cocoa pods hanging like huge rugby balls from the branches to the exotic ylang ylang flower can be seen here.

Fruit of the lipstick tree
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A green cocoa pod hanging from the tree
Bright yellow turmeric root
Bright yellow turmeric root
Cinamon cut from the bark of the tree to smell
Cinamon cut from the bark of the tree to smell

We follow the farmer along a path wandering underneath big trees winding in and out between shrubs and bushes, all the while aware of the lingering smells of spices.

A young man follows us cutting and weaving green banana leaves into small works of art which he presents to us, transforming the men into look alikes of King Julien in the movie Madagascar with towering woven hats and the ladies into jewel wearing society madams.

Banana leaf jewels

The visit is concluded with a traditional Swahili meal consisting of  spicy pilau ( rice cooked with spices ) two spicy traditional sauces and greens almost like spinach accompanied by spicy chai ( tea ). The meal is eaten sitting on a woven mat on the floor.

Tradtionlal Swahili meal
Tradtional Swahili meal

Spice trading is an age old tradition in Zanzibar and formed the backbone of these islands’  economy from as  early as 975 AD, when a Persian sultanate was established here. Cloves were, and still is the main spice being cultivated and traded with, but as other seafaring explorers and merchants reached this coast more and more varieties of spices were introduced.

Today Zanzibarians  still  use  spices not only for their culinary attributes, but also as traditional medicine and in decorations.  Essential oils are used in wellness treatments.

A visit to these islands is not complete untill having experienced the pleasures of an introduction to the rich heritage of the spice trade .

After all these islands are known as the spice islands!

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Spice trading on the farm. (note the King Julien hat!)

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