Zanzibar Spices

Zanzibar Spices : Spice Up Your Life In Zanzibar : Even those who have only ever fantasized about Tours to Zanzibar have probably heard of it as “The Spice Island.” Simply saying the word conjures up mouthwatering flavors and heady, exotic aromas. But for those who prefer cold, hard facts to accompany their romantic fantasies, here is a more thorough explanation of Zanzibar’s spice heritage:


The best way to define spices is as the dried parts of aromatic plants whose properties are experienced through taste and smell. In addition to serving the more obvious purpose of flavoring food, spices have a profound impact on health, affecting many bodily functions. They are crucial to food preservation because they function as antioxidants.


The use of spices is almost as old as human history itself. There are records of the Egyptians giving the workers constructing the great pyramid of Cheops spices they brought back from Asia in order to give them strength as early as 2600 BC. Long before Confucius recommended using ginger in the sixth century BC, the Chinese were importing spices from the tropics. Europe imported them before Rome was established.

The battle cry of Vasco da Gama’s Portuguese troops as they landed in Western India in the 15th century was, “For Christ and spices!” The first high-end products to enter the European market were spices. Plants like pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg only naturally grow in the tropics, primarily on the Indian Ocean coast and the islands of the Indonesian archipelago.

 These locations were as far away from Europeans in the Middle Ages as the outer reaches of space. The exotic nature of spices, which can only be found in distant, foreign lands, was a symbol of the wealth and status of anyone who could afford to use them as seasonings in food.

Beyond meals and banquets, spices are used for their symbolic meaning as well. They were left behind in wills alongside other heirlooms and presented as gifts of state. Even rent and debt payments could be made with spices rather than gold.

 The major trading powers engaged in brutal and desperate competition for control of the shipping lanes that transported spices to their respective markets as a result of Europe’s insatiable appetite for spices. The governments of the Netherlands, Portugal, England, and Spain sent intrepid merchant companies to the Far East in search of the elusive source of the spices that their people yearned for.

Many of them perished in the world’s oceans, having been shipwrecked, lost, or murdered. But eventually, the European powers took over the production of spices. They did this by using straightforward force to seize the Far Eastern spice plantations and seize control of the spice trade from the Arab traders, who had been providing spices to the rest of the world for centuries.

When European traders established a foothold in the Indies, the source of the most valuable spices, they tried to create a monopoly by putting anyone caught trying to smuggle seeds or plants off their isolated island plantations to death. The demand for spices was so great that even these desperate measures proved ineffective. Daring international spice pirates stole the plants (nutmeg, cinnamon, or cloves), broke the monopoly, and ensured the freedom of the spice trade for all time.


This Regions that surround the Indian Ocean have been engaged in a thriving maritime trade since antiquity. Since ancient times, goods from Indonesia, Malaysia, and India have been arriving on the East African coast on wooden dhows traveling on the monsoon winds that blow through this area. There is no doubt that spices from Asia reached Zanzibar in this manner long before the emergence of European spice traders.

As part of their strategy to rule East Africa early in the sixteenth century, Portuguese traders built a base on Zanzibar. They brought plants from their colonies in South America and India, including spices. Plantations were set up, but the Portuguese never really expanded beyond a military presence on Zanzibar.

The development of Zanzibar’s economy as a producer of spices was left to the Omani Arabs, who ruled Zanzibar starting in the early eighteenth century. The first Omani sultan to rule Zanzibar, Sultan Seyyid Said, quickly recognized the potential of his new realm as a location for growing spices due to its hot climate and regular rainfall.

 On his own plantations, he encouraged the planting of clove trees in particular. He also ordered other landowners to plant two clove trees on their farms for every coconut tree. Zanzibar rapidly rose to prominence as a spice producer. Spices replaced the slave trade as Zanzibar’s primary industry in the late nineteenth century.

When the Sultanate era came to an end and the long arm of the British Empire swept across Zanzibar, the new colonial “protectors” of the island promoted the cultivation of spices and other useful plants by enlisting the help of European scientists in the establishment of government farms like those at Kizimbani and Kindichi. These regions continue to be home to spice plantations that are under the control of the contemporary, independent Tanzanian government.

 But in Zanzibar today, spices are far more than just the province of governments looking to produce lucrative export goods or a useful tourist attraction. Spices and practical plants are an essential part of daily life for the locals of Zanzibar and a rich component of the island’s powerful and vibrant culture.

In addition to serving as a flavoring for Zanzibar’s distinctive cuisine, the spices grown in village kitchen gardens also yield the dyes and cosmetics required to celebrate weddings and festivals.

Why is Zanzibar called the Spice Island
Why is Zanzibar called the Spice Island

 Spices and practical plants are woven into the life and culture of these fascinating islands, from the dark-red henna stain on a bride’s hands to the coconut-palm roof of a newly built house or the sweet aroma of cloves drying in the sun. You can learn more about Zanzibar’s true nature by touching, tasting, and smelling the spices that grow here.


Every visitor to Zanzibar will eventually be given the option to take a “spice tour,” which is a journey to the farmlands just outside of Stone Town to see aromatic plants and herbs growing wild or cultivated in kitchen gardens. Even if you typically avoid overtly planned or “touristy” activities, a spice tour is likely the best way to see the surrounding countryside and interact with rural communities.

At Kizimbani or Kindichi, tour guides lead visitors on walking tours of the villages and plantations while collecting bundles of leaves, fruit, and twigs from bushes and inviting them to smell, taste, or guess what they are. Almost every spice found in the typical spice cabinet is present, including cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chillies, black pepper, nutmeg, and vanilla.

 A mouthwatering variety of fruits, including pineapple, mango, jackfruit, lychees, bananas, papaya, and the notoriously pungent Durian fruit (which is said to smell like hell but taste like heaven), grow alongside the spices. As you stroll through the plantations, you can eat any of these.

Local kids make baskets out of palm leaves and fill them with flowers to give you as you travel around on your tour. You’ll stop for a Pilau rice and curry lunch at a local’s home, followed by sweet Arabic coffee and perhaps a piece of lemongrass cake. Numerous spice tours also stop at the nearby Fuji or Mangapwani beaches for a swim on the way back after visiting the Persian baths Sultan Said constructed for his harem.