Guide to cloves with information on the history of cloves and recipe ideas.

Although cloves may look like hardware nails and are also named after them, they are actually the dried unopened flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree.

Syzygium aromaticum trees are native to the Moluccas Islands (Spice Islands) and are commercially grown in other hot and tropical areas, yet cloves are popular in many cuisines all over the world.

Cloves, as with a number of other spices, may be used and enjoyed in both sweet and savoury dishes.

They have a warming, sweet and spicy taste that may just as well be suited to a curry, marinade or stew, as to milk puddings, apple pie or mulled wine.

The history of cloves

Cloves have a very long history and date back to the times of Ancient China, at least. During that period, around 2500 years ago, cloves were not only used for cooking but also for perfumes, medicines and breath fresheners. Under the Emperors orders, no one was allowed a visitation with him unless they had sucked on a few cloves beforehand.

Cloves were a very expensive and coveted spice. Many wars were fought, mainly between Europeans, in order to gain control over the clove trade and to amass lots of money and profits.

Such was the need to control the clove spice trade that the Dutch burnt down all the clove trees in existence, apart from those that grew on an island that they controlled. Needless to say, the natives of the other islands revolted, particularly as it was tradition to plant a clove tree after the birth of every child on the island and the fate of the child was linked to the fate of their specific clove tree.

Nowadays cloves are cultivated for commercial production in nearby regions such as Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tanzania and Madagascar, where the tropical climate and soils are optimum.

Medicinal uses of cloves

Cloves are actually a great source of several vitamins and minerals including manganese, Vitamin C, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.

For years cloves have been used to treat digestive and stomach disorders but most importantly and even still today, clove oil and whole cloves are used to relieve toothache and dentists use clove oil in their fillings, anaesthetics and mouthwashes.

Different cultures and peoples all over the world have found many effective medicinal uses for cloves. Even today medical researchers are studying the properties of cloves and developing new medicines with them.

Cloves are said to have the following qualities and medicinal benefits:
  • Cloves contain eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties making it useful for sufferers of rheumatism, arthritis and mouth and gum disorders.
  • Clove tea may calm the stomach and digestive system, easing gas, flatulence, indigestion, diarrhoea and bloating.
  • Helps with nausea and vomiting.
  • The Chinese used clove oil to treat fungus infections such as Athlete's Foot.
  • Cloves are a good general all over tonic and booster.
  • They are a mild local anaesthetic, useful for relieving toothache.
  • Cloves have anti-oxidant cancer fighting properties.
  • Cloves may act as a mild sedative.
  • When boiled with water and gargled, cloves are a good antibacterial mouthwash, which can help to combat bad breath and relieve a sore throat.
  • Cloves are said to restore the appetite, which is good for people with eating disorders.
  • Cloves are effective at clearing up a number of skin disorders such as acne, sores or ulcers.

Buying, storing and preparing cloves

Cloves can be bought whole or in the ground form. Whole cloves are much more aromatic and flavoursome and if possible try to buy whole cloves as opposed to the ground powder.

Although some cooking recipes will call for ground clove powder, it is possible for you to grind the whole cloves at home. Using a pestle and mortar to grind the cloves is not the best choice, and if possible try to use an electric grinder of some sort, such as a coffee grinder. If you do not have one to hand, you could place the cloves in a plastic bag and crush them with a hammer.

Another advantage of whole cloves is that they will keep for around 6 months longer than the ground form, lasting for about a year if stored in an airtight container.

Some ideas on how to use cloves in the kitchen

Cloves can be used with other spices to create a number of spice blends for meats, curries and meat marinades. Cloves are popular in Asian, African and Middle Eastern cooking and are often used in the above dishes.

If you prefer to use cloves to create a sweet dish, try adding them to apples, pears or rhubarb.

Cloves are actually one of the main ingredients of the world famous Worcestershire sauce and they can be added to other ingredients to make pickles, sauces and chutneys.

Some other ideas include the following:
  • Stud an onion with several cloves when making a homemade sauce, stock, broth or stew.
  • Embed a few cloves into a piece of meat before cooking.
  • Add to cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage dishes and this will aid digestion.
  • Use cloves to make bread sauce.
  • Use cloves to make mincemeat or a Christmas pudding.
  • Add ground cloves to biscuit or cake dough for a spicy sweet treat.
  • Add to your mulled wine ingredients.
  • Use cloves in your apple sauce.
  • Add to stewed fruits such as apples or rhubarb.
  • Add to barbeque style sauces.
  • Flavour soups with whole cloves.
  • Flavour boiled or fried rice with several cloves.
  • Use to make sweet breads or muffins.
  • Add to pumpkin or sweet potato pie.
  • Add to curries and other spicy foods.
  • Add to rice pudding and other milk-based sweet dishes.

Clove Recipes

A number of recipe ideas that include cloves as one of the main ingredients such as bread sauce, caramelised oranges and chicken breast with almonds and prunes.

Bread Sauce

Bread sauce is traditionally served with roast turkey at Christmas, but why should you only eat it once a year when this sauce is so tasty?
  • 4 oz (115 g) of freshly made white breadcrumbs
  • 1 pint (570 ml) of milk
  • 1 onion
  • 12 cloves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 2 tbsp of double cream
  • nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  1. Take the onion and stud it all over with the cloves.
  2. Place the studded onion into a saucepan together with the milk, peppercorns and bay leaf.
  3. Slowly heat and bring to the boil.
  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to one side for two hours, so that the flavours infuse together.
  5. Remove the onion but leave to one side. Discard the bay leaf and remove the peppercorns with a slotted spoon.
  6. Add the breadcrumbs and butter to the pan and cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. The sauce should then thicken and swell with the breadcrumbs.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and add a good grating of nutmeg.
  8. Stir in the cream and then serve warm with hot or cold chicken or turkey.

Chicken Breast with Almonds and Prunes

This chicken dish is very simple to prepare. There are a lot of ingredients but you basically chuck them all into one pot and leave to cook.
  • 4 boned chicken breasts
  • 1¼ pint (710 ml) of chicken stock
  • 4 oz (115 g) of raisins
  • 2 oz (55 g) of fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 oz (55 g) of ground almonds
  • 1½ oz (45 g) of toasted flaked almonds
  • 1 oz (30 g) of butter
  • 12 prunes, stones removed
  • 3 tbsp of freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp of fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp of freshly chopped marjoram
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 chopped sage leaves
  • ½ tsp of ground mace
  • a few saffron strands, crumbled
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken pieces.
  2. Fry for about 10 minutes until the meat has browned all over.
  3. Transfer the chicken breasts to a large cooking pot.
  4. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  5. Stir in the raisins, breadcrumbs, ground almonds, prunes, cloves, mace and saffron and cook over a gentle heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.
  7. Bring the liquid in the pan back to the boil and continue to boil until it has reduced by half or to your desired consistency.
  8. Add the parsley, sage, thyme and marjoram and mix well.
  9. Return the chicken to the pan to warm through and then serve with the sauce and a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds on top.

Caramelised Oranges

You will need a day or two to prepare this dessert and to really bring out the best flavours.
  • 6 large oranges
  • 9 fl oz (255 ml) of water
  • 8 oz (225 g) of sugar
  • 3 tbsp of orange liqueur
  • 6 whole cloves
  1. Peel two of the oranges with a sharp knife or a potato peeler, making sure that you remove any white pith from the rind.
  2. Cut the rind from the two oranges into very thin matchstick strips and place them all into a small saucepan.
  3. Fill the pan with water to just about cover the orange rind strips.
  4. Heat the water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and drain the orange rind and set aside. Reserve the boiled water as well.
  6. Peel the remaining four oranges, removing all the pith and peel, which you can discard.
  7. Take one orange and with a sharp knife cut it into 4 equal horizontal slices. Pile the orange back together and secure into place with a cocktail stick. Repeat with the remaining oranges.
  8. Place all of the reassembled oranges into a heatproof dish in an upright position.
  9. Place the sugar, water and cloves into a heavy saucepan and bring the water to the boil.
  10. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved.
  11. Bring back to the boil and boil until the syrup begins to darken and thicken. Do not stir.
  12. Once the syrup reaches a light brown colour, remove from the heat and add the reserved orange water.
  13. Return to a gentle heat and cook until the caramel has dissolved. Stir in the orange liqueur.
  14. Mix well and then pour the liquid over the oranges in the heatproof dish.
  15. Sprinkle the oranges with the reserved orange strips.
  16. Cover the dish with cling film and chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours but if possible between 24 - 28 hours.
  17. Remove from the refrigerator and discard the cocktail sticks before serving in individual dishes.

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