Cloves (Syzyium aromaticum)
Cloves are a spice that is made from the immature flower buds on trees that belong to the myrtle family.
The essential oil, eugenol, gives cloves a strong, pungent, hot yet fruity flavour. Cloves can sometimes leave a numbing feeling in the mouth.
Cloves have a warm, pungent aroma with notes of camphor and pepper.
Due to its powerful flavour, its best to use cloves sparingly so it doesn’t take over the taste of the other ingredients. Cloves are used in both savoury and sweet dishes and are a common ingredient in Asian, African and Middle Eastern cuisines. Cloves are one of the spices in garam masala and Chinese five spice and are used either ground or whole.
Cloves are used to flavour apples, beetroot, carrots, ham, pork, pumpkin, onions, oranges, poultry and sweet potatoes. Cloves marry with allspice, bay, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli, fennel, ginger and nutmeg.
The clove tree is native to Indonesia and grows up to 8-12m tall. The unopened flower buds are harvested twice a year, from July to September and November to January before the flower matures. The buds are handpicked when they are only just turning pink at the base and then are dried in the sun until they turn from red and finally dark brown.
Cloves were only grown in the Moluccas (or the Spice Islands) in Indonesia until the 18th century when Frenchman, Pierre Poivre, carried seedlings to Mauritius where the seedlings flourished. The plants were then introduced into the East African coast, which is now the largest producer of cloves.
In Indonesia, a clove tree seedling was planted to celebrate the birth of a child and if the tree flourished this was a sign of good luck for the child and they would wear a necklace of cloves for protection against evil.
The medicinal benefits of cloves were used by Chinese doctors as early as 3 BC to heal the kidney, spleen and stomach. These days, oil of cloves is used for its antiseptic and preservative qualities in toothpaste, mouthwashes and mouth wash. Cloves are also used to treat flatulence, colic, indigestion and nausea.
Facts about Cloves
The saying “nutmeg must be able to smell the sea but cloves must see it” came about because cloves grow best on islands or near the sea.
How can I tell if my whole cloves still have good flavour?
Press the whole clove with your fingernail, if it exudes a small amount of oil, it still has good flavour.