The Spice Isle

Thanks to its strategic location, the island of Zanzibar has been at the crossroads of the spice trade for centuries. Foreign competition knocked the island off its pedestal at the top of the heap, but Zanzibar still is a big player in the spice world. The markets are redolent with the heady aromas of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla. Today we traveled out of the city to wander through the jungle of a spice plantation. It was amazing to see just how abundant the fruits and spices are if you know what you are looking for and where to look. We saw nothing except a jungle, but fortunately, we had a couple of locals on hand to point everything out and spice things up for us.

We had barely exited the van when we came upon clove trees. From there, we saw no less than eighteen different species of spices and fruits over the next two hours in the jungle. I think that was a pretty phenomenal number. Here’s what we saw: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, kapok, cassava, ginger, turmeric, pineapple, coconut, oranges, grapefruit, lemongrass, jack fruit, soursop, pepper, galangal, vanilla, and coffee. Below are just some of the things we saw.

This is an easy one: pepper.


Clove trees.




Turmeric: I had never given it much thought and didn’t know that it is a root. It grows much like ginger.


The bark from a cinnamon tree.


This little troop of monkeys just sat up in the trees and watched us for a while. Then there was a little spat, I believe over some aggressive grooming, and a fight broke out. They are Zanzibar Red Colobus monkeys and are endemic to the island.


This funny fellow introduced himself as Butterfly. He shimmied up that coconut tree and sang silly songs for us after opening a coconut for each of us to eat/drink.


  1. Dorothy Young on March 27, 2023 at 12:32 pm

    The red webbing on the nutmeg is mace. I think I’m the only baker who remembers using mace — a spice with a slightly milder nutmeggy flavor.

  2. Ruth Anne Lawson on March 27, 2023 at 1:36 pm

    I have heard of a portion of mace being called a “blade,” so do you think a blade would be one of those web things? How interesting!

    • Dorothy Young on March 27, 2023 at 3:30 pm

      The “blade” appears to be the entire piece of mace from a nutmeg. Here’s mace for sale where they use the ”blade” terminology:

      • Ruth Anne Lawson on March 27, 2023 at 11:23 pm

        I’ve seen lots of recipes for Indian dishes that call for a blade of mace. Now that makes more sense! Thanks!

  3. Bill andJudy on March 27, 2023 at 4:41 pm

    We always enjoy your blog

    • Ruth Anne Lawson on March 28, 2023 at 1:31 am

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Judy on March 27, 2023 at 8:54 pm

    Love the spice lesson!

  5. Pam Morgan on March 28, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    Are you allowed to bring some home?

    • Ruth Anne Lawson on March 28, 2023 at 1:43 pm

      Seemed like a bad idea to try, so we passed on buying anything. Too bad because the mixes looked especially good.

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