In the heart of Zanzibar, a paradise known for its rich cultural tapestry, we delve into the vibrant world of typical fruits that flourish in this exotic East African island. Join us on a journey to discover the unique flavors and significance of Zanzibar's indigenous fruits.
Shoki Shoki (Rambutan)
The commonly used name for the Shoki Shoki fruit outside of Zanzibar is "Rambutan," derived from the Malay word "rambut," meaning "hair," referring to the densely spaced soft spines of the fruit. Removing the peel reveals the white juicy flesh, which encloses a hard seed. The Swahili name is Njugu Mawe. This tropical delicacy is known for its exceptional sweetness and is particularly favored by chefs for desserts and ice creations. In addition to its delicious taste, Shoki Shoki offers a wealth of health benefits, especially due to its high vitamin C content.
Often confused with lychee, both Shoki Shoki and lychee belong to the Sapindaceae family. Originally from Malaysia and Indonesia, these fruits found their way to Zanzibar in the 15th century. In Chinese culture, Rambutan holds significance as a symbol of love and romance.
Shoki Shoki fruits are harvested twice a year in Zanzibar, from June to August and December to January. While these fruits are often enjoyed fresh, they also lend themselves well to jams, jellies, smoothies, and a variety of delicious desserts.
The mango (embe in swahili), derived from the Indian term "māṅṅa," stands as a luscious stone fruit belonging to the Anacardiaceae flowering plant family. Upon its introduction to the American colonies in the 17th century, mangos were compelled to undergo pickling due to the absence of refrigeration, leading to the transformation of the word "mango" into a verb signifying the act of pickling.
Native to South and Southeast Asia, particularly in India, where it is known as the "common mango" or "Indian mango", this delectable fruit varies in size and color when ripe, emitting a distinctive resinous, sweet aroma. Mangos generally exhibit a sweet taste, though the flesh's texture and flavor nuances differ among various species.
Mangos find versatile application in cuisine, whether enjoyed on their own, incorporated into chutneys (using the sour, unripe varieties), featured in fruit salads, pressed into juices, or blended into ice cream and sorbets. Beyond their delightful taste, mango fruit is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds.
However, it's essential to note that the skin of unripe, pickled, or cooked mango can induce contact dermatitis on the skin, lips, gingiva, or tongue in susceptible individuals. Despite this, mangos hold cultural significance in various societies, with the fruits and leaves serving ritually as floral decorations during private and public celebrations as well as religious ceremonies.
As you journey along the road traversing the island from west to east, a captivating avenue of majestic old mango trees unfolds before you. The origins of this enchanting pathway are intertwined with intriguing tales, each weaving a unique narrative.
One such tale recounts the legend of a Sultan's daughter, known for her nightly romances and the grim fate that befell her lovers at dawn. According to this story, the severed heads of the unfortunate paramours were interred along the roadside, giving rise to the flourishing mango trees that now grace the avenue.
In an alternative version, the genesis of the avenue is attributed to a commemoration of the slaves who once trod this very road across the island. Their sacrifice is said to have nurtured the growth of the magnificent mango trees that line the route. The choice between these tales rests with you, the storyteller of your own journey.
In Zanzibar, papaya holds a prominent place in the local culinary landscape, adding a tropical and flavorful touch to various dishes. The island's tropical climate provides an ideal environment for the cultivation of papaya, and as a result, it features prominently in both sweet and savory Zanzibari cuisine. The swahili name is "papai".
Zanzibari cuisine is known for its rich and diverse flavors, influenced by Indian, Arabian, and Persian culinary traditions. Papaya is often incorporated into fresh fruit salads, juices, and smoothies, providing a refreshing and sweet element. The ripe fruit is sometimes enjoyed on its own or paired with other tropical fruits for a delightful dessert.
In addition to being a sweet treat, unripe papaya is used in Zanzibari dishes as a vegetable. It can be included in chutneys, salsas, and other savory preparations. The black seeds of the papaya, containing the enzyme papain, may also find their way into certain spice blends or be used in traditional remedies.
Beyond the culinary realm, papaya trees with their distinctive large leaves contribute to the lush and vibrant landscape of Zanzibar. The presence of papaya in Zanzibar reflects not only the island's agricultural abundance but also its cultural and culinary fusion, creating a unique and delightful culinary experience for residents and visitors alike.
Stafeli, also known as Soursop (Annona muricata), is a fruit that can reach up to 40 cm in length and weigh up to 4 kg. Originally from the Caribbean and South America, it is now cultivated in most tropical countries. Due to its susceptibility to pressure, transportation is challenging, making it less available outside its cultivation areas. The flesh has a sour taste and is commonly used in juices, purees, and sweets.
The seeds of the fruit contain a neurotoxin called annonacin. There is controversy surrounding the potential connection between the consumption of plants containing annonacin and a neurological degenerative disease found exclusively on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. It's believed that the nervous poison in the seeds might be a contributing factor to this disease. However, research on this topic is ongoing, and the link remains a subject of debate within the scientific community.
Despite the controversy, Soursop remains a popular fruit in many tropical regions, valued for its unique flavor and culinary versatility, though care should be taken regarding the consumption of the seeds and their potential effects.
The term "coconut" has its roots in 16th-century Portuguese and Spanish, where "coco" referred to "head" or "skull," inspired by the three indentations or "eyes" on the coconut shell resembling facial features. Widely distributed throughout tropical and subtropical regions, the coconut constitutes a staple in the daily diets of numerous communities.
Distinguished from other fruits by its high water content, the coconut can be harvested in its immature stage for refreshing drinking purposes. Even when mature, it retains some water and features the renowned "milk," a versatile ingredient in culinary endeavors. The dehydrated coconut "flesh," known as copra, serves as a valuable source for producing oil, extensively utilized in the manufacturing of soaps and cosmetics.
Beyond its culinary applications, various components of the coconut find purpose in different industries. The hard shell, for instance, is employed as charcoal, while husks and leaves contribute to the creation of a diverse range of furnishing and decorating products. Traditional houses in Zanzibar often boast roofs constructed from coconut leaves, referred to as "makuti."
It is always fascinating to see how the gardeners of our hotel climb the palm trees without any safety measures to harvest the coconuts.
In Swahili, the coconut has different names: the young, still unripe fruit with soft flesh, whose water is often consumed, is called "Dafu," while the mature fruit with harder flesh, used for cooking, is called "Nazi" (pronounced with a soft "s").
Moreover, the coconut holds cultural and religious significance in societies that incorporate it into their practices. The life cycle of coconut palms sees them bearing their first fruit between six to ten years, reaching peak production—yielding up to 75 fruits annually—after 15-20 years. This enduring and versatile palm has become an integral part of both daily life and cultural heritage in regions where it thrives.
The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) belongs to the mulberry family and originates from Southeast Asia. It grows on trees and is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, weighing up to 15 kg per fruit. The name is derived from the Malayalam word "chakka," which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word "chakra," meaning "round." The fruits grow near the trunk of the jackfruit tree, reaching lengths of up to one meter and diameters ranging from 15 cm to 50 cm. Jackfruit is rich in fiber and minerals, low in calories, but supplies the body with about 13 mg of vitamin C and many other important vitamins and minerals.
Locally known as "Fenesi," jackfruit is one of the most popular fruits among the indigenous population of Zanzibar. The fruit is characterized by a delicious combination of sweetness and acidity, accompanied by a unique texture. During the ripening process, jackfruit emits a beautiful fragrance, signaling that it is ready to be enjoyed. The taste is somewhat reminiscent of pineapple.
Apart from being consumed as a snack when ripe, jackfruit plays a versatile role in Zanzibari cuisine. It is featured in a variety of traditional dishes, with curries being a particularly popular choice. The subtle sweetness and characteristic texture of jackfruit complement the savory profiles of curries, and it is also appreciated as a meat substitute.
Revered as the "king of fruits" in Southeast Asia, Durian is a unique and iconic spiky fruit that holds a special place in Zanzibar's seasonal offerings. Recognizable for its distinctive features, including a pungent odor and a creamy, custard-like flesh, Durian is an exotic delicacy that beckons adventurous taste buds.
Travelers visiting Zanzibar and fortunate enough to be there during the Durian season are encouraged to embark on this unique culinary adventure. The fruit's distinct aroma and rich flavor create an experience that is both memorable and emblematic of the region's diverse fruit landscape.
Beyond its sensory allure, Durian is a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with dietary fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals such as potassium and vitamin C, it contributes to a well-rounded and healthful diet. The fruit's richness in antioxidants and sulfur compounds not only adds to its nutritional value but also defines its unique taste and aroma.
The starfruit (in swahili "matunda ya nyota"), scientifically known as Averrhoa carambola, grows on an evergreen, slow-growing tree with a short trunk, typically reaching heights of 5–10 m. It is originally from Java, Sulawesi, and the Moluccas, but is now found in many tropical countries. It is rich in Vitamin A and C, as well as calcium and iron.
The exotic fruit gets its name from the star-shaped pattern that is revealed when it is cut open, exposing its juicy, translucent flesh beneath the yellow-green skin. In Chinese medicine, the crushed fruit is considered a good remedy for wounds, and the juice is believed to have fever-reducing and thirst-quenching properties.
Its taste is a delightful fusion of sweetness and acidity. The star fruit is versatile in culinary applications; whether used as an ingredient in juices and smoothies, in salads, or simply as a decoration, it adds an exotic touch to dishes.
The term "Tangerine" (Citrus tangerina) refers to both a citrus plant and the orange-colored fruit it produces. The word "tangerine" is used synonymously for both this fruit and the mandarin (Citrus reticulata). While these fruits are closely related, they are not identical, although the scientific distinction is not yet conclusively settled.
The name "tangerine" can be traced back to their origin in the Moroccan city of Tangier. These petite, sweet fruits are well-known for their easy peelability, making them a preferred choice for a quick on-the-go snack.
During the peak season in Zanzibar, they abundantly flourish in villages such as Bambi, Uzini, Machui, and beyond, adding a touch of freshness to every corner. Beyond their delightful taste, tangerines offer nutritional benefits. They are rich in fiber, as well as a variety of essential vitamins, such as Vitamin C, and minerals. Additionally, their low calorie and low-fat profile makes them an ideal complement to daily nutrition.
The passionflower family (Passifloraceae) is a plant family that includes various species. The edible variety is called Passiflora edulis, of which there are purple and yellow types, referred to as passion fruit or maracuja. The passionflower is originally from South America but is now cultivated worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions. The swahili name is "matunda ya mateso".
Passiflora edulis is an evergreen, woody climbing plant with vines that can grow up to 10 meters long. In Zanzibar, it often climbs on many house walls or fences. The fruit is a berry with an inedible rind; inside, there are numerous seeds surrounded by a liquid-jelly-like yellow-orange-colored pulp.
In Zanzibar, the cold-sensitive yellow variety is common, and it is larger and more acidic than the purple one, which also grows at higher altitudes. Passion fruits are often used to make sweet and sour juices, incorporated into desserts and cakes, and processed into delicious jams in our hotel kitchen.
Zanzibar is home to a variety of bananas, both small and long, each with its unique flavor and culinary uses. The small banana, referred to as "ndizi" in Swahili, is a delightful snack. With its petite size and sweet taste, these bananas are perfect for a quick energy boost on a warm day in Zanzibar. They are commonly found in markets, street stalls, and even in the backyard gardens of many Zanzibari households.
On the other hand, the long banana, known as "Matoke," holds a special place in Zanzibar's culinary tradition. These larger bananas are often used in savory dishes, adding a unique and slightly starchy flavor to the island's diverse cuisine. Matoke are frequently incorporated into stews, curries, and other local dishes, showcasing the versatility of this elongated fruit.
Both the small and long bananas in Zanzibar benefit from the island's tropical climate, where the combination of ample sunshine and regular rainfall creates ideal conditions for their cultivation. The volcanic soils of the archipelago contribute to the bananas' rich taste and nutritional profile, making them not only a culinary delight but also a valuable source of vitamins and energy for the local population.
As you stroll through the vibrant markets of Stone Town or traverse the rural landscapes dotted with banana plantations, the scent of ripening bananas fills the air, creating an olfactory symphony that is distinctly Zanzibari. Whether you savor the sweetness of the small banana on its own or indulge in a savory Matoke-infused dish, the bananas of Zanzibar are a testament to the island's bounty and the harmonious coexistence of nature and culture in this tropical haven.
The pineapple belongs to the Bromeliaceae family and is originally from South America. It was presented to Christopher Columbus as a welcome gift during his second voyage in 1493 on Guadeloupe, making its way to Europe. Since the 16th century, it has been cultivated worldwide in tropical regions.
The name "pineapple" is derived from the Guaraní language, spoken in some areas of South America, where it was called naná, meaning "fruit." In Swahili, it is known as "Nanasi."
Pineapple is rich in vitamins (especially vitamin C), minerals, and enzymes. Zanzibar, with its tropical climate and fertile soil, is a paradise for growing sweet and juicy pineapples. The island's pineapple plantations yield an abundance of this tropical fruit, known for its refreshing taste and vibrant aroma. As you explore Zanzibar, you'll come across freshly harvested pineapples at roadside stands and markets, often peeled and sliced into rings for immediate consumption. Pineapple is frequently used as juice, in tropical fruit salads, or in curries.
The wild form of watermelon originally comes from South Africa, and cultivated varieties are now grown worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions. They are drought-resistant and prefer hot and sunny locations. Watermelon vines grow along the ground, with tendrils reaching up to 10 meters long.
Since the flesh of wild varieties is bitter and not suitable for consumption, it is likely that only the seeds were used in ancient times. The first cultivated forms are known from around 2000 BCE in Egypt and West Asia, from where it quickly spread. In the arid regions of Africa, watermelon has been a crucial source of water for people for centuries.
The rind of the watermelon can be up to 4 cm thick and is green on the outside, sometimes striped or marbled. The flesh is typically red but can also be yellow or orange. In some countries, the seeds are ground and used to make bread, eaten roasted, or fermented into alcoholic beverages. In medieval times, they were used as a laxative.
New plants can easily be grown from watermelon seeds. Most commonly, the fruits are eaten raw, while in some African countries, they are occasionally cooked. The sweet, juicy flesh is a refreshing thirst quencher and also works well in fruit salads and other dishes. The Swahili name of watermelon is "tikiti maji".
In our kitchen, we incorporate tropical fruits into our daily culinary creations, crafting a diverse array of meals and beverages. From refreshing juices and delectable desserts to flavorful jams, vibrant salads, savory soups, and even main dishes, these tropical treasures add a burst of exotic flavors to every aspect of our culinary experience.