Cloves

Wholes cloves in a bowl

Cloves are a spice that is harvested from the Syztgium aromaticum plant or clove tree. When tiny buds start to form on the tree, they are picked by hand and sundried until they turn hard and brown. Also known as nail spice, the whole spices look like a nail or tack. Cloves became popular for its culinary uses in the Middle Ages; however, the Chinese have used the spice for medicinal purposes for centuries – as far back as the Hang Dynasty from 206BC, it was used as a breath freshener.

Flavor

Cloves have a powerful, warming flavor with a mildly sweet, camphorous undertone. Their aroma is pungent and spicy with a hint of fruitiness. Cloves can easily overwhelm some dishes, so they are often mixed with other warming spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice to reduce its flavor punch. In some cases its pungent flavor works well on its own, such as adding to savory recipes; studding a ham with the whole spices adds delicious flavor and helps balance the saltiness of the meat.

Pairs with

Proteins

  • lamb
  • beef
  • ham
  • chicken
  • fish
  • pork

Vegetables

  • tomatoes
  • beets
  • squash
  • red cabbage
  • zucchini
  • pickles

Spices

  • star anise
  • Sechuan pepper
  • amchur
  • cumin
  • cardamom
  • chili

Spice blends: ras el hanout, baharat, garam masala, curry, pumpkin pie spice, mulling spices.

Culinary uses

The clove can be used whole or ground into sweet and savory dishes. In cakes, pies, muffins, bread, and desserts it is added in powder form along with other complimentary spices. Indians simply add one of two whole cloves to hot milk to make puddings like kheer. They are a key ingredient in fruit mince pies and are popular in drinks like cider and mulled wine.

Beef casserole or the French dish pot-au-feu benefits from the addition of cloves, helping to cut through the rich, fattiness of the meat. A small amount of ground clove spice added to homemade tomato sauce helps balance the acidic, sweetness of the tomatoes, and add a warmth to the sauce.

To effectively release the flavors, cloves should be added early in the cook to allow the flavors to be released. Cooking with fat or alcohol will help to draw out the eugenol flavor compound from deep in the dried bud.

How much? Use sparingly in baking; ¼ teaspoon of the ground powder is enough. For every pound of meat use 3-5 whole cloves for best results.

Substitutes

To replace cloves in a recipe use an equal amount of allspice. Alternatively, use equal quantities of cinnamon and nutmeg. The replacements won’t perfectly mimic the flavor, but they won’t taste out of place in most recipes.

Use one teaspoon of whole cloves to replace ¾ teaspoon of ground cloves.

Note: Whole cloves are usually removed before serving and they don’t impart a lot of color into the meal. If you decide to use ground cloves then you’ll darken the color of the food.

Storage

Store whole cloves in an airtight container or jar in a dark, dry place for up to 3 years. Ground cloves will last 1-2 years before losing quality.

Quick Facts

NameDescription
FamilyMyrtaceae
Flavor compoundCaryophyllene, eugenol, linalool, methyl salicylate, terpineol
Botanical nameSyzygium aromaticum
Parts usedFlower bud
Other namesNelken, nail spice, ting hiang

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