We visited Abdalla Abeid’s Spice Farm on our way from Stone Town to Pwani Mchangani during a trip to Tanzania’s Zanzibar. The farm was not anything like America’s commercial orchards, where apple trees grow neatly in rows. It was a miniature forest with mango tree canopies and a little of everything all growing together — a throwback to the time when the Sultan of Oman controlled Zanzibar and the spice and slave trades were economic staples.
Spices have always been a serious business. So serious that Spain, Portugal, England, and Holland all fought for control over the Indonesian Spice Islands for 200 years. The leaves, fruit, and oils provide the ultimate culinary experience and have healing powers, too. Spices are what Christopher Columbus was in search of when he landed in the Bahamas.
Confession: If “spice trivia” were a thing, I would have lost miserably. Our guide explained how each of the farm’s spices and fruits grows, about their local uses, cultivation and preparation for market. I didn’t recognize the fresh green vanilla bean or the shiny green peppercorns, which only slightly resembled the dried black ones in the market. I had no idea that fresh nutmeg was shiny, black and covered in red veins. I was surprised that lemongrass repels mosquitoes. The local fruit Mbilimbi (cucumber tree), traditionally enjoyed pickled, can also be used to treat venereal disease. It was a stark reminder of how far removed we are from our food sources and how little I knew about the spices I use.
The tour left me amazed. Tasting jackfruit right from from the tree was a delicious experience. We left the farm wearing natural red lipstick made from annatto, adorned with bracelets woven from palm leaves. Our spice bouquet’s fragrance perfumed our seaside room for days.
If you ever get the chance to visit Zanzibar or any other spice-growing area, find a farm and ask for a tour. You’ll be glad you did.