As you prepare for your adventure in Zanzibar, you will probably discover that the island is known as the “Spice Island.”
This nickname is fully justified, as Zanzibar plays a significant role in the export of spices, which are deeply ingrained in the local customs and cuisine.
Prepare for a unique culinary adventure by visiting a local spice farm in Zanzibar that beautifully captures the spirit of this spice island.
With our travel tips and this guide, you’ll find the essence of this ‘flavorful’ journey. You’ll explore, learn, and even taste the spices right off the plants.
Let’s spice up your travel tales… here is an overview:
Zanzibar’s Spice History
Zanzibar’s main industries are spices and tourism, with the islands being famous for producing cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. Tanzania, in particular, produces Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “real cinnamon.” Cloves account for more than 90% of Tanzania’s spice exports worldwide.
As a result, the Zanzibar Archipelago and Mafia Island in Tanzania are often referred to locally as the “Spice Islands.”
Back in 1964, when they formed Tanzania, Zanzibar and Mafia Island were once the largest producers of cloves in the world. The first clove trees arrived on these islands in 1818, brought by Arab traders from Mauritius who had obtained them from Indonesia.
However, due to the fertile soil and tropical climate, the industry quickly flourished. Along with the flourishing slave and ivory trade in the 19th century, cloves, along with other spices, became an important source of income for these islands.
During this period, a series of Arab sultans who ruled these islands encouraged the establishment of clove plantations and threatened those who didn’t cultivate this precious spice with land confiscation.
Spices were introduced to Tanzania, including the rich soils found in Zanzibar, about a thousand years ago. Since then, they have become an integral part of the people’s lives, history and economy. When slavery was abolished in 1897, the former slaves became tenant farmers, free to grow whatever crops they wished, while providing their landlords with crops consisting mainly of cloves and coconuts. Little has changed since then.
Spices in Zanzibar Today
Today, thanks to Tanzania’s favourable agricultural climate and soil conditions, a wide variety of spices and aromatic plants are still grown.
The main production area on the mainland is the Eastern Arc, a chain of mountains that runs from north to south along the coast. This region includes highland and lowland areas with their own unique microclimates characterized by cool and humid air, regular rainfall, natural forests and diverse wildlife.
It’s important not to overlook Pemba Island and Unguja Island as they also play a significant role in spice production.
However, most of the farms are not open for tourism. Instead, smaller spice farms in Zanzibar serve as showcases for tourists who want to experience spice farming firsthand. It’s worth noting that these smaller farms follow the same processes and grow similar spices, but on a smaller scale. After all, no one wants to spend half a day just walking across a field.
Almost all of the spice farms are located in close proximity to each other, about 5 kilometers north of Stone Town.
Getting to a Spice Farm in Zanzibar
If you’re close to Stone Town, biking is an option, but it can be challenging in Zanzibar. We recommend hiring a professional guide for the safest route if you like adventure.
Another option is to take the public bus known as “dala dala”, but it’s complicated because they don’t usually stop near spice farms. You’ll need to know where and when to ask the driver for directions, which can be tricky with so many farms around.
You can also drive yourself or hire a guide. However, as all spice farms look similar, thorough research is essential. Roads are generally good, except for the last stretch to the farm, which can be rough after rainfall. Care must be taken when driving.
Hiring a guide will provide comfort and convenience. They only work with top-quality spice farms and have extensive knowledge of potential problems that may arise during your visit.
Related Read: The Best Markets in Stone Town, Zanzibar
How Long Does It Take to Visit a Spice Farm in Zanzibar?
In general, exploring the spice farms takes about 3 hours if you arrange transportation from Stone Town.
These delightful plantations are relatively small, so there isn’t a lot of walking around. Everything is conveniently arranged to ensure maximum enjoyment for visitors. It’s important to note that people in wheelchairs can participate in this tour as the terrain is level.
If you opt for a spice farm that offers a cooking experience, it may take a little more time, but it adds an extra touch of excitement to your visit!
Zanzibar Spice Farm Tour
Zanzibar’s spice tour is like stepping into a live kitchen. It’s an immersive journey that entices all your senses, turning the usual spice encounter on its head. For travelers and food-lovers, it’s not just a tour; it’s a stirring story of Zanzibar’s rich cultural heritage and a tribute to its age-old love affair with spices.
This is not just any farm. This is an adventure steeped in history, culture and the tantalizing mystique of Zanzibar’s famous spice trade. When you enter the Spice Farm, nestled among whispering palms and the cobalt embrace of the Indian Ocean, you enter not just a farm, but a symphony of the senses.
The knowledgeable guide at the farm will explain how these spices are cultivated and used not only as medicine but also to add flavor to our delectable dishes. You’ll have the opportunity to touch, smell, and taste these herbs directly from their natural source – it doesn’t get any fresher than this! Moreover, they offer a variety of tropical fruits in season.
As part of your local immersion experience, you can join in harvesting cassava leaves while learning how coconut milk is made. To make things even more exciting, a skilled coconut tree climber will pluck some fresh young coconuts for you to enjoy firsthand.
This is an unforgettable local adventure!
To conclude this remarkable trip, you are invited to indulge in a delightful lunch featuring locally sourced ingredients from the spice farm itself.
And don’t worry if you fall head over heels for those exceptional spices – they’re available for purchase on the premises with guaranteed quality assurance.
Duration: 3 hours
Free cancelation up to 24 hours before
- Convenient pickup from the designated meeting point in Stone Town
- Pickup service available at selected beach hotels in Zanzibar (if chosen)
- Expert local guide
- Contributing to the well-being of the local community
- Enjoying a delicious lunch accompanied by an informative cooking lesson
- Drinking water
Strap yourself in for a fragrant adventure that is set to spice up your life more than a notch.
What to Expect on a Tour of a Spice Farm in Zanzibar
Throughout the tour, you’ll see, taste, touch and smell spices in various ways.
There will be moments when you will be pleasantly surprised and say, “Wow! I didn’t know that!” Just remember that all spices are fresh and may have a stronger flavour than you’re used to at home. So it’s important to take the necessary precautions.
You’ll also explore various other herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, and many more. And let’s not forget the wide variety of fruits – from the famous jackfruit to rambutan, pineapple to papaya, mango to soursop, breadfruit to durian (“smells awful but tastes amazing”). Note, however, that these fruits don’t grow at the same time; their availability depends on the season.
After walking through the spice garden and learning more about spices, you can enjoy a fruit tasting with an assortment of interesting fruits based on the season.
Enjoy a Cooking Lesson on your Tour
This fruity adventure will be followed by a cooking lesson using freshly harvested ingredients from the farm for lunch. The meal will be mostly vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) with occasional fish options. It’s all about plant-based cooking.
This hands-on experience allows you to not only learn how to prepare traditional Zanzibari dishes using freshly picked spices but also to acquire specific culinary techniques that are unique to Zanzibar.
The chef leading this class will share his expertise while encouraging your active participation throughout the meal preparation.
It’s worth mentioning that during the tour, there may be instances when local community members try to integrate into the tourist activities. Some people find this awkward, while others see it as a fascinating way to gain insight into Zanzibari culture. Expect situations where locals offer handmade items made from palm leaves, such as purses, hats, rings, and other creative pieces. Sometimes, a talented individual known as the “coconut man” will even climb a coconut tree while singing and collecting coconuts from the top. Tips are appreciated as they directly support the local communities.
Towards the end of a tour, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase spices directly from the spice farm, but keep in mind that while spices don’t expire, they do lose their flavor over time. So this is your chance to put your newly acquired knowledge into practice and use your sense of smell to select quality products.
Be sure to check your country’s customs regulations for importing spices as they may vary.
Tanzanian Spices in Cooking
Tanzanian cuisine is full of indigenous spices and traditional recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Local favorites include refreshing teas made from ginger and lemongrass, and the popular East African rice dish called pilau. Pilau holds a special place in the hearts of families and is made with a delicious combination of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, black pepper, turmeric and garlic.
In coastal areas such as Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Bagamoyo, Zanzibar and Pemba, the cuisine is heavily influenced by the use of spices.
Popular Tanzanian Cuisine
Pilau, a popular rice dish in Tanzania and East Africa, is incredibly popular. It consists of ingredients such as rice, potatoes, beef, goat or chicken (although it can be made without meat for vegans and vegetarians), and pilau masala. When entertaining or gathering for lunch at weddings in Zanzibar, pilau is the most popular dish.
The pilau masala used in this dish is a mixture of ground spices that typically includes cumin, cinnamon, black peppercorns, cardamom cloves, and garlic. Some recipes may even include turmeric powder, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, and cardamom pods.
When making fish or chicken curry and beef stew, Tanzanian recipes often call for a widely used curry powder, which can be either store-bought or homemade. The main ingredients in this curry powder are coriander seeds, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, chilies, and ginger. Additional elements may consist of grains, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and jaggery.
Black ginger tea is a common beverage enjoyed by many Tanzanians on a daily basis. Spiced tea in particular is well known throughout Zanzibar, where it is prepared using special tea masalas such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg. Some people even like to add dried orange peel, star anise, and vanilla extract to further enhance the flavor.
Maandazi, a type of donut that originated in East Africa, is another popular choice for breakfast and lunch. These puffed savory buns get their unique flavor from the addition of ground cardamom to the flour.
Related read: Forodhani Garden: Where Zanzibar’s Heart Beats