Zanzibar: The Spice Island

Off the east coast of Africa, Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island. As the largest island of the archipelago in Tanzania, it is officially called Unguja, although it is more popularly referred to as Zanzibar.

Surrounded by many smaller islets, the Zanzibar archipelago is 25 to 50 kilometres off the coast and comprises two large islands, Pemba and Unguja. The capital is Zanzibar City on the main island of Unguja, where the historic centre, Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site.

The beautiful island is a captivating mix of culture and history, combined with an idyllic geographic location of white sandy beaches, with palm trees swaying gently in the sea breeze. Zanzibar is a popular holiday destination for those who like to explore, as well as for anyone needing to relax and unwind.

Visitor attractions

As an ancient trade centre, Zanzibar City's winding lanes, mosques and the House of Wonders (built in 1883 as a sultan's palace) are popular tourist attractions. In the late 19th century, it was famous for its Hamamni Persian Baths that were fed with hot water from underground aqueducts. The city's former old fort is now home to a cultural centre and a stone amphitheatre.

Many of the high townhouses and winding streets have remained unchanged since the 19th century and visitors can still see the sultan’s palace, merchants’ houses, the fort and gardens, and the Turkish baths.

Environment

Many people visit Zanzibar to take a fascinating safari - the 50km-square Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, located on Unguja's largest forest area, is a must-visit destination. The park and protected land house many different habitats including groundwater forests, grassland and coastal forests, and salt marshes and mangroves adorn the coast.

Zanzibar is home to many different species of marine life, birds and butterflies, as well as a number of mainly small animal species. There are 54 species of mammal recorded on the archipelago, including 23 bat species, the Zanzibar red colobus monkey, bushy-tailed mongoose and the dwarf antelope, which stands at only 15 inches tall.

Spice Island history

Popularly known as the Spice Island, Zanzibar is most famous today for its day-long spice tours. Visitors can experience working plantations, where many spices such as vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. are cultivated.

The island was a spice route as long ago as the 15th century. By the time the famous Italian explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in America, searching for the route to spices in 1492, the Portuguese had already been exploring and mapping the African coastline for the same purpose.

Bartolomé Dias, a Portuguese explorer and nobleman, discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and opened the route to the east and the Indian Ocean. A decade later, in 1499, the renowned Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama (the first European to travel to India by sea) found the fascinating African islands of Zanzibar.

The warm, rich and magnetic aroma of spices was noticed from a distance, drawing in travellers from afar. It was even recorded that Arab merchants in the 8th century sailed to Zanzibar to find the source of the beautiful spice aromas. Portuguese, Turkish and English adventurers followed in their footsteps.

Varieties of spices

Since those early days of exploration, the islands of Unguja and Pemba have earned their place in history as the Islands of Spices, making Zanzibar a commercial centre for spice production and a massive part of the local economy.

The most popular spices, especially in the early years of exploration, were pepper and clove, not least because they were excellent meat preservatives in an era before refrigerators existed.

The Myristica tree's fruit provides two spices - the seed creates nutmeg and the shell covering the seed creates mace, which turns dishes a mustard yellow colour in ground form, and adds a delicate, sweet-spicy flavour. Both have been used for cooking in Asia and Europe since the Middle Ages.

Cinnamon has been traditionally used to flavour food, as a digestive aid, for its anti-inflammatory properties and even as an aphrodisiac!

As well as being exported from Zanzibar, the spice plantations attract many travellers who are eager to breathe in the pleasant aromas and enjoy the kaleidoscope of colours and flavours. Indeed, as well as its beaches, heritage and wildlife, Zanzibar also promises an exotic culinary adventure.

For those who like to experiment with spices from anywhere in the world, ensure you use the best airtight solutions to keep your ingredients and finished products in tip-top condition! Solent Plastics' range of premium quality food storage containers will surely cater to all your needs!

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