Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spice Tour

I thought I would start here since it was requested and one of the highlights of the weekend.

We started out in the morning and I had booked for a whole day of activities. Of the day, the spice tour far exceeded my expectations. In our 14 passenger van were 3 Italians, 2 Swiss, 1 German, 4 Brits, 3 Americans and 3 Tanzanians. You do the math. (Okay, one Tanzanian was the driver.)

We arrived at a government experimental area. This allowed us to see several things growing in a relatively small area. I really wish I had been writing them all down. I think I got the photos mostly labeled right. And here again is where sight alone doesn’t do the tour justice. Our guide was outstanding. He know the names of the spices in every language represented and I am sure many more. Many of the spices we came upon he would hand us some crushed leaves and ask us to guess the spice. I wasn’t very good at that.

Did you know:

That nutmeg and mace come from the same seed; they are just two parts of it (Photo above is nutmeg - the red skin over the nut if mace - the white part is waist)
Vanilla beans grow in clumps
Arabica coffee is a stronger bean than most
Cocoa isn’t sweet but the soft flesh around the bean is and it’s edible (and very good)
Ginger, saffron and turmeric are all roots
Cinnamon is really a tree bark (and it refreshes itself)
Five different kinds of pepper come from one kind of 'corn'

We got to sample all these and more: lemon grass, jack fruit, star fruit, lipstick fruit, cloves, sweet grapefruit…I’m sure I’ve missed at least a half a dozen of the ones we saw.

At the end of the tour we were in a small ‘village’ and there were fresh spices to buy. I got a few select items: cinnamon, cumin seed, henna powder, cloves, saffron and a pilaf mixture that included cardamom and a citronella/coconut oil that is good for mosquito repellant and massage oil.

While walking around this circular tour, we were given a leaf cone to collect all our fresh spices in. The helper boys that followed us around were busy weaving purses, bracelets, rings, frogs, hats and neckties our of palm fronds to adorn us on the walk. Of course they were working for a tip at the end. I had a nice collection of palm-wear by the end.

I am sure my description lacks the exotic feel the morning had. But it far exceeded my expectations of the tour.

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