The clove is the only spice that is smoked more than eaten. You are probably familiar with the sweet odour of kretek, the clove cigarettes from Indonesia.
More than half the world’s clove production is ground with tobacco to make kretek.
Resembling small nails, the name clove is in fact derived from the French word clov, meaning nail.
Each “nail” is an unopened flower bud of the clove tree, a tropical evergreen member of the Myrtle family.
A clove tree, known botanically as Eugenia aromatica, may live 100 years. They begin producing fruit at seven years and come into full maturity at around 25 years.
Cloves are now produced in Brazil and Indonesia although the finest are said to come from Zanzibar and Madagascar.
The first mentions of this hot, pungent flavour have been found referred to as the “chicken-tongue spice” in literature of third century, B.C., China.
The Chinese used cloves medicinally to relieve tooth pain, a common home remedy still today.
Cloves have been valued throughout history as a food preservative. Essential oil of clove contains phenol, a strong antiseptic used in mouthwashes, medicines and antacids.
Another substance found in clove oil, eugenol, was once a popular ingredient for imitation vanilla or vanillin. Intense in aroma and flavor, this spice is hot and slightly sweet.
Use with caution as the flavour develops sharply within a dish upon standing. The intensity is tempered somewhat with heat.
While cloves may not be an ingredient that we reach for often, they are associated as necessary to certain dishes in different cultures.
A single clove is pushed into an onion when the French are preparing chicken stock.
Americans will recognize whole cloves garnishing a baked ham. Ground cloves are often combined with apples here in the UK.
Cloves are commonly chewed with betel nuts throughout India.
One of the spices in the famous Chinese five-spice powder is cloves.
You might add ground cloves to baked goods or a pinch with beef and pork dishes.
Use them whole in beverages and pickles. Whole cloves also make an interesting garnish and come in especially handy for decorating gingerbread.
Use sparingly as Cloves are a very pungent spice.
Use in apple pies, stewed fruit, pickles, mulled wine.
Add a clove studded onion to chicken stock. A clove can also be added to long cooking meats along with Bouquet Garni.