Cloves are an aromatic spice known for their intense aroma and flavor, present in various cuisines globally. Whole and ground cloves flavor soups, sauces, curries, and desserts.
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What are cloves?
Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree (Syzygiumaromaticum), an evergreen tree under the umbrella of the Myrtle tree family.
The clove tree is native to the Moluccas or Maluku Islands, popularly known as the Spice Islands, in Indonesia. The trees also grow in Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, and Tanzania.
What do cloves look like?
Cloves are dark brown flower buds with a reddish tinge. The dried cloves come with a rounded top of four unopened petals hugging the small ball in the middle, and their stem forms the tapered end.
The flowers of the clove tree turn bright red when they develop and mature. The flowers are picked before the clove buds open. When harvested, cloves measure around 0.5 to 0.75 inches. The cloves are then spread thinly on mats to dry under the sun or processed in a dryer.
What do cloves smell and taste like?
Cloves are an intensely rich spice with potentially overpowering flavor and aroma. They hit the palate with a sweet, bitter, and warm flavor profile. This spice also tends to be astringent enough to dry the mouth but leave a tingling or electrifying sensation on your tongue.
It blends well with other potent spices such as cinnamon, allspice, star anise, and nutmeg. While these spices are known to be rich, they are considered milder cousins of cloves. Cloves bring warmth to any dish and are perfect for balancing overly sweet flavors.
Because of cloves’ strong aroma and flavor, most cooks use them sparingly. Some find the spice overwhelming and opt to skip it completely.
When using whole cloves, don’t forget to remove them before serving your dish. They remain hard, retaining their woody texture that can be unpleasant in the mouth.
Why do cloves taste so strong?
The strong flavor profile of the reddish-brown spice is mainly because of eugenol, a strong aromatic compound. Top-quality cloves may contain about 15% to 20% essential oil, of which 85% of their composition is eugenol.
Eugenol is also a natural anesthetic, which explains the somewhat numbing effect of the spice. This is why clove oil is used as temporary relief for toothache.
What food do you put cloves in?
Dried cloves serve as key ingredients in various cuisines around the world. For example, they are essential when making Indian tea masala chai.
The popular spice also forms part of spice blends like the Indian garam masala and the Chinese five spice.
Here’s a short list of some popular uses of cloves:
Where can you buy cloves?
You can buy whole cloves or ground cloves from your local grocery store or online retailers.
You can also find them in Hispanic food selections as “clavos” or “clavos de olor.” You may also find Penang cloves, individually handpicked gourmet cloves with flawless shapes.
What can work as a clove substitute?
Your best clove substitute will be nutmeg. Both spices work well with sweet dishes or savory dishes. Since cloves are much more peppery, follow a 1 to ½ ratio.
Another excellent alternative for cloves is allspice, following a 1:1 ratio. You can also use cardamom in place of cloves. Finally, some cooks use a spice blend of nutmeg and cinnamon as a clove substitute with a 1:1 ratio.