Zanzibar, Tanzania: Exploring the Many Local Flavors

Just some of the many spices grown and sold on the "Spice Island" of Zanzibar (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Just some of the many spices grown and sold on the "Spice Island" of Zanzibar (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Zanzibar is a place known for beautiful beaches, but the thing that I liked most about my visit there was the food. Everywhere you look there’s a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and, most importantly given the island’s history, spices. Zanzibar is one of the “Spice Islands,” a group of islands that supplied cloves, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, and other spices to Europe in the 17th Century.

Today, those spices are grown much the same way they were then—organically, without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, in response to consumer demand. And they’re still grown on large plantations, but instead of slaves planting and harvesting the crops, local Tanzanian farmers use intercropping to grow many of the spices along with fruit trees and vegetables. The spice farms are also benefiting from tourism—I paid a shockingly low $12 for my day long trip to the spice farm, which included a wonderful (and spicy!) vegetarian lunch and a trip to a pristine and deserted beach.

The Tanzanian government, however, controls much of the land where the spices are grown and also where they are sold. Vanilla grown in Zanzibar, for example, is not used on the island or even in mainland Tanzania, but is grown exclusively for export. And Zanzibar is also the world’s third largest supplier of cloves, the main export from the island.

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