Zanzibar: A spicy place with a Lipstick fruit

Zanzibar I think can be called a spicy place. It’s full of spices and has been an exporter of spices for centuries.


It started in the 19th century when the Omani Arabs ruled over Zanzibar. Cloves were introduced to the island by the Omani Sultan and they flourished in the sunshine and fertile soil on the west coasts of both Unguja and Pemba.  During the nineteenth century, the island became the largest producer of cloves in the world. Over time, other spices were introduced from Asia and South America, including cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, which have become an integral part of Swahili cuisine.

Today the spice plantations have taken a back seat economically and are no longer the main industry, but they are still the most common feature on the island.

The spice farms are about a 45 minutes drive from Stone Town. For us,  most were familiar spices like lemon grass, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves etc.

My spice collection basket

Our guide revealed the hidden flavours of the island, cutting small leaves, roots and stems, breaking open seed pods and handing them out to chew or smell.

What I found interesting was the Lipstick Tree, a small tree originating from the tropical region of South America.

Lipstick Tree
Inside the pod are bright red seeds

In Zanzibar, the lipstick fruit is used in red curries—a furry pod is cut open to reveal small bright red seeds (when you crush them with your fingers it feels like a melted crayon.) It acts as a natural food colouring.To demonstrate, the guide crushed the seeds from inside and applied it on his lips which turned a lipstick red!


While continuing with his commentary about the various spices the  guide deftly made trinkets and bracelets out of coconut leaves and passed them out to us.


The tour came to an end with a refreshing fruit sampling session, where we tasted locally grown litchis, grapefruit, orange, custard apple, watermelon & bananas.


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