Cooking with Cloves

Cooking with Cloves

(Syzygium aromaticum, also known as Eugenia caryophyllus and E. aromatica). The word 'clove' comes from the French 'clou', meaning nail. Cloves are the unopened flower buds of a tree of the myrtle family, indigenous to the Moluccas, the fabled Spice Islands of old. They grow on strong  but slender stems in groups of two, three or four and each bud measures about 1 cm from the base of the long calyx to the rounded tip of the bud. When fresh they are deep pink and even as tightly closed buds, give off a spicy, floral fragrance. They are never allowed to bloom because if they do, they will become worthless as a spice.

The buds are picked twice a year, separated from the stems and spread on mats to dry in the sun for several days until dark brown. They lose two-third of their weight after drying, and it takes from 10,000 to 14,000 of the dried buds to make a kilo of the spice.

The clove plant provides essential oils which are used in perfumes, toothpastes, mouthwash and breath fresheners. Courtiers in China during the third century BC were required to keep a few cloves in their mouths to sweeten the breath whenever addressing the emperor.

The flavor of cloves, measure for measure, is much stronger than most of the other spices, so the quantity added is generally less than, for instance, cinnamon or nutmeg, so that it doesn't overwhelm. A clove or two simmered with stewed fruit, then removed, adds interest; and for pickling, cloves are as essential as mustard seed. In Western cooking, the Christmas ham wouldn't be the same if not studded with cloves before baking, and a pinch of ground cloves added to the ham glaze of mustard and brown sugar lifts the flavor tremendously.

Cloves are an essential ingredient in many spice blends, but perhaps nowhere more important than in Indian curry powder.

Medicinal uses : Oil of clove is an old and reliable toothache reliever, is antiseptic and was used in medicine to aid digestion.

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