There is no way a foodie in his/her right mind would visit The Spice Island and not visit a spice plantation. Woe be unto that foodie! My spice tour was one of the most fun things I did on my trip. It was like a dream come true.
I grew up in the English countryside with a farm in the backyard and growing our own herbs and vegetables was normal. These days we are so far from the source of our food we don't even know what some of it looks like before it makes it into a jar, bottle or packet. I was totally at home in the spice plantation we visited, dancing between the ridges and trekking along the dirt paths behind our guides Muhammad and his assistant (who's name I didn't totally catch).
Muhammad tested our sense of taste and spice recognition and trust that I kinda, sorta, did ok on that test. Let's just say I need to hang around fresh spices much more often. Although I knew in my head what the aroma of each spice was, my mind couldn't totally match the aroma with ingredients I held in my hands. The smell from fresh spices is powerful and the stuff you buy in the supermarket, and dry spices just don't pack as much punch.
What did I learn? Well, first off Zanzibar is known for cloves. Fresh cloves are actually flower buds. Although this isn't a spice I use much, I fell in love with the aroma and vowed to use it more. Nutmeg was a total surprise. It is a spice I love, but it was the first time I had ever seen them fresh. They are just gorgeous to look at and the smell of fresh nuts is potent in a “I want to eat cake right now”, kinda way.
As we walked among the ridges we spotted Cassava, which is very popular in Nigeria and used to make our famous garri. We passed along rows of lemon grass, they grow so tall here. Then a sniff that took my breath away was of fresh vanilla beans. Oh how, images of cakes and ice cream flashed across my mind. Something else we saw fresh was coffee beans. I'm not a coffee drinker, however this was fascinating to see nonetheless. Then we moved on to the jackfruit, fresh peppercorns.
Soon, a new discovery...Mbirimbi (aka bilimbi). In English the bilimbi tree is called a cucumber pickle tree and is scientifically known as Averrhoa Bilimbi. It tasted something like a flavourful cucumber and I had tasted this at a restaurant a few days beforehand.
Moving on to the fruit. We sat under a tree to enjoy some fresh fruit - lychees, passion fruit, oranges, pomelos and pineapples. It was a much needed and very much appreciated break after a few long hours of walking. Once we enjoyed the fruit, chatting with the locals and some comedy from our guides, it was time for some shopping. Trust that I stocked up on spices for my cupboard, including the ones I know I didn't really need. But while on the Spice Island, how can anyone resist?
"Why would English people explorers search for these spices, yet never use them in their food?"