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Information about cloves and clove recipe collection


Ingredient of the Month 

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November  2002



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The Clove plant belongs to the plant family Myrtaceae (myrtle) and has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. The Botanical name Caryophyllus aromaticus is derived from the Latin "clavus" which means nail because of the shape resemblance.


The dried buds are the parts used for culinary purposes as well as for their aromatic qualities: pomanders made from citrus fruits and studded with cloves, were certainly very popular back in the 17th century in England.


Origin and History of Cloves


Whilst the clove tree is native to the Molucca (spice) Islands (now a part of Indonesia) Madagascar, Brazil, Panang, Ceylon, Sri Lanka and Malayasia are also producers.


Trade between the "clove island" Ternate (now Gamalama) and China dates back at least 2500 years. At that time in China, cloves were not only used for cooking but also for deodorising. In early writings from the Han dynasty in China (207 BC to AD 220) it is reported that anyone having an audience with the emperor had to chew cloves to sweeten their breaths and mask any undesirable smells.


Arab traders brought cloves to Europe around the 4th century at which time they controlled the market and set the high prices paid by Europeans. By the early 16th century, Portugal conquered and controlled the spice islands and continued to do so for over 100 years. Then in the early 17th century,  the Dutch gained control of  the trade and continued to keep prices high for Europeans.


However, as the spice shipping routes became well established and larger amount of spices were grown for trade, spice prices in Europe began to drop despite the fact that  the Dutch at one time set fire to clove trees in order to keep the prices high. By the late 17th Century, many spices, including clove, became readily available to almost everyone.


The British took their turn in the early 1800s, and established clove plantations in Zanzibar (Tanzania) who now the largest exporter of the spice.


Cultivation of cloves and Processing Cloves


The clove tree is an evergreen which grows up to 20 feet tall and the stem is often forked with two or three main trunks. is a tropical evergreen plant which grows to 20 feet tall. It requires a warm humid climate to thrive with deep loam soil containing a high humus content being best suited for its cultivation.


The tree flowers twice every year and it is the unopened buds which are harvested once the outer green leaves (calyx) have changed from green to a yellow pink. The buds are harvested in clusters by hand and care is taken not to over pick which would result in a reduction of future crop yields.


The buds are then detached from the stalks, still by hand and dried separately. The buds must be dried very quickly to prevent them fermenting. This is done in the sun on mats and usually takes 4-5 days during which time they are raked over for even colouring. By the end of the drying process, the cloves have become brittle and dark brown. These are then winnowed to remove dust.


Cloves in Cooking


Cloves are used in many cuisines worldwide…too many to mention them all. They can be bought whole or ground and are used in a variety of both savoury and sweet dishes. They should always be stored in an airtight container.


Whole cloves can be used when cooking fish, poultry and meats, for example in stews, when pickling fruit and vegetables and as an aromatic addition to hot punches and mulled wines. Ground cloves are not only used in savoury dishes, where whole cloves may spoil the texture or appearance, but also widely used as an ingredient in baking and desserts.


Cloves are also included in many spice mixtures. Chinese Five Spice, Indian Curry powder and Garam Masala, Moroccan ras el hanout and the French quatre épices amongst them. It is also an ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce.


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