Do You Know What Spice This Is?
While in Africa I had the opportunity to visit Zanzibar, an East African archipelago off of Tanzania’s mainland. Zanzibar is actually made up of 52 islands, many of which are so well known for their spice plantations that the island chain is sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands. How could I, I figured, visit the Spice Islands and not do a spice tour? What I learned surprised me.
First a little background, Zanzibar’s indigenous spice crop is cloves but the location, heat, and humidity of the island is such that when, in the 1840′s, the Sultan came to power (pushing out the Portuguese), he started to bring in other spice plants that were known to grow well in similar climates. Many of these plants flourished and because Zanzibar’s Stone Town is a port city, it became the center of the African spice trade (those same factors also led to Stone Town sadly becoming the center of the East African slave trade). Today many villages on the islands maintain their own cooperative spice plantations that provides them with tourism dollars (via spice tours like mine), spices to trade or sell, and spices to be used by their own community.
It was one of these community plantations that I had the opportunity to visit. During the 2 hour tour, our guide showed us the entire plantation and gave us samples of various spices that were grown there, asking us if we knew what they were in their raw form. Let’s test your spice knowledge:
If it’s any consolation I was at a total loss. Turns out it’s nutmeg!
This one I actually figured out after I smelled it – it’s turmeric!
There were a load of other spices that I got to smell, sample, and taste – including a ton and a half of saffron and vanilla bean pods that I seriously debated trying to smuggle back into the US (but I figured a prison sentence didn’t agree with me so opted against it). In addition to explaining the culinary uses of many of these spices, the guide also shared with us the medicinal or other applications of the spices for things like dying clothes or making henna.
Then, after a long cool drink of freshly harvested coconut water it was time for a little shopping. I’m proud to say that true to my culinary background, I spent more on spices than what I spent all other trip souvenirs combined!
We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled business-related programming next week. Thanks for your patience while I’ve readjusted to this time zone and waded through a backlog of 8000 emails!