Do you know where black pepper comes from? Or what a vanilla plant looks like? How about nutmeg? We were lucky enough to take a tour of a spice plantation in Zanzibar, which answered a lot of these questions for us.
Zanzibar’s spice history goes back about 2000 years ago, when the Persian Zenj sultanate was established in 975 AD. The Zenj traded ivory, gold, spices and slaves with the Chinese merchants who sailed through India and Persia, bringing garlic and lemongrass to the island. As trade increased, Zanzibar received cinnamon and cardamom from Asia, while the Portuguese brought cacao and chilli from South America.
The plantation we visited was just a short drive outside of Stone Town. Below are vanilla beans before they are processed. Vanilla is part of the orchid family, if you can believe it!
One of the most common spices, of course, is pepper or peppercorns. Pepper grows as a flowering vine. So what’s the difference between black pepper, green pepper and white pepper? They all come from the same plant. Black pepper is the cooked and dried unripe fruit, while green pepper is the uncooked dried unripe fruit, and white pepper comes from the ripe fruit.
This is fresh turmeric. Isn’t the colour gorgeous? Turmeric is a member of the ginger family native to southwest India. It was once used as a dye, as well as for medicinal purposes.
Speaking of dyes, this is how annatto grows, from a tree called anchiote:
A close-up of the strange, fuzzy, heart-shaped seed pods:
Annatto is used as a food colouring as well as in cosmetics. We were given the opportunity to try it ourselves straight from the source:
I’m sure you’ve seen whole nutmeg seeds in grocery stores before. But have you ever seen the actual fruit the seeds come from?
The shiny red coating around the nutmeg seed is where mace comes from!
After the main part of our spice plantation tour, we were treated to a lovely tea break.
It included teas made of ingredients like lemongrass and ginger, before getting some slices of fresh fruit such as pineapple, papaya, starfruit and passionfruit, just to name a few:
Afterward, we were treated to fresh coconut juice straight from the tree. Our guide climbed the tree all the way to the top, barefoot, to get the best coconuts for us. He made fast work of that knife too!
At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to purchase some of the amazing spices grown here. It was worth it for the labels alone!
My personal favourite: