If you have been reading this blog, you probably know that I went to Zanzibar in February 2017 and one of the experiences that totally blew my mind was the Zanzibar Spice Tour! We often obliviously add spices to our food but do we know how the spices are grown? As someone who loves food, you can imagine how excited I was. That day, no one gave us the memo that we would be walking for hours in this expansive farm under the scorching heat and heavy, humid air. This made us question our dress code (black maxi dresses) shortly after arriving on the farm. However, this remains one of my favorite experiences ever and I wouldn’t change anything. Honestly, Zanzibar was just the best place to be and I wish everyone can just plan that trip. You will come back with your heart heart brimming with joy and stories. Even as I am typing this, I just can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic and somewhat sad that I did not stay longer. *Wipes tears*.
The Zanzibar Spice tour is an obligatory tour when you visit the beautiful island of Zanzibar. You get to see different herbs and spices and how they are used. There are two types of spice farms, there are the government owned and the privately owned farms. However, our guide, Azizi, recommended that we try the government farms because they were bigger, activity packed, affordable and there was so much to see. We visited Kizingoni farm.
Here are some of the reasons why you should go for the spice tour!
1. YOU WILL GET TO CONNECT WITH NATURE. REALLY CONNECT!
You will be deep in the heart of the forest and you will see gigantic and strange trees. Trees that almost look like they are piercing the sky. Trees with cotton-like, puffy pods that carpet the forest floor. Trees with knife like thorns and vines that hang from many metres above the ground. The songs of strange birds will rent the air and you will be startled ocassionally, but you get used to it. You will also see the ‘perfume tree’ which makes that part of the forest smell like a spa. You will rub its leaves and flowers on your body and the nectary smell will stay with you all day. One perfume maker even told us that they use the same tree to make the coveted Chanel No 5 perfume. You will sit on random logs in the middle of the forest and just listen and feel! Bugs will bite you, you will be barefoot at some point, you will sweat like a pig but you will not mind.
2. YOU WILL GET MADE UP AND EMBELLISHED WITH ‘PLANT JEWELRY’.
You will get a full set of natural jewelry; from palm rings & bangles to cassava necklaces and flower crowns. If you are lucky, you can get natural lipstick too! And the guide’s assistant will be artfully weaving the jewellery as you walk. At the end of the tour, he will give you a handbag to carry your fruit & spices back home.
3. YOU WILL MEET AMAZING PEOPLE WITH COOL STORIES.
Everyone we met on this tour was so fun and they told us so many tales. They also listened to our stories. They will tell you about the history of the people, the farm and spice making. It won’t feel like you are on a trip but it will feel like you are talking to your friends. They will not rush you and you will take as much time as you need per spot. They also help you carry any luggage you have and they agree to take breaks when you get tired of walking.
4. YOU GET TO SEE HOW SPICES GROW
We started out our with visiting a nutmeg tree farm. I did not know how nutmeg looked like in its raw form. Hundreds of trees formed canopies, providing shade from the scorching 11 am Zanzibar sun. Under the trees, a blanket of leaves and overripe fruits provided a nectary smell and there were a few bees threatening to attack. When ripe, the nutmeg fruit has a yellow flesh and a brown kernel inside. The seed has a powdery substance that is further dried and used as a spice and an aphrodisiac for women. Every place we visited was awe-inspiring. We saw how different parts of plants are used to make spices. For example, in the cinnamon plan, they use the bark and stem to flavour tea and also grind it to use in pastries. For the coffee, they roast the beans. For vanilla, they use the pods and for ginger, they use the roots.
5. YOU GET TO QUENCH YOUR THIRST WHILE WATCHING AN INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE.
We proceeded to see ‘Mr. Butterly’ who was a professional coconut tree climber. He had stepped out for lunch, but his apprentice artfully and almost effortlessly climbed a coconut tree as he sang a Swahili song. He then cut four of the juiciest coconuts and chopped them for us. We were sitting in an arena-like space complete with logs which we used as seats, centrally located to watch his performance. We cooled off by drinking coconut water as he narrated different stories about how he got into coconut tree climbing. He told us that it was an art and not everyone can do it. He was trained for months. You just have to watch the video on my ” LIVING IT UP ZANZIBAR” Travel Series.
6. YOU WILL TRY JUICY & EXOTIC FRUIT.
The mangoes are so juicy and the pineapples are so sugary. I finally got to try the Jackfruit which I always thought was a durian. I learned that the two are different plants.
Wow! I have always thought that the durian and the jackfruit are the same fruit. I was wrong. pic.twitter.com/kApgoX2y72
— thewineandfoodreview (@Jeanwandimi) March 10, 2017
7. YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
I never knew how black pepper grows because I have always bought it in powder form. I realized that the plant looks like a yam. I also never realized how big clove trees are. The tall trees have aromatic tree buds that are dried and used as spices for pilau. Another thing that we learned was that ginger is used as an aphrodisiac for men and nutmeg is an aphrodisiac for women! I definitely did not know that.
8. YOU GET TO BUY SOME SPICES.
There is a little shop at the exit of the farm where visitors can buy different spices. There is nothing like taking a cup of cardamom tea months later knowing that it was sourced from that place you visited. However, I found that spices in the farm are more expensive than those in Stone Town. You can just buy some to show appreciation and to support the community. the best thing is that the spices are already packaged into small gift bags and you can get an array of spices like cardamom, ginger, saffron, curry, nutmeg, cinnamon among other spices.
If you do plan to visit the spice farms there are some tips that you need to know.
- Make sure you pick a tour company that provides you with a guide to explain everything.
- Make sure you carry comfortable shoes. Sandals or rubber shoes are perfect because you will be walking. However, the temperatures are very high and sports shoes can get cumbersome.
- Carry some extra money because you can buy some spices after the tour. However, we found that the spices are more expensive in the farm than in Stone Town. We just bought a few spices to show appreciation but we bought most in the town as they were way cheaper.
- Be sure to taste all the exotic fruits like the juicy Zanzibar mangoes, papaya and jackfruit. You can also request to have lunch at the farm and you can see how to use the spices.