Welcome to this month’s Spice Guide: Cloves where I will be exploring all there is to know about this fragrant, delicious spice. Come learn where cloves come from, how best to use them and what to pair them with! I’d love to hear how you use cloves in your kitchen!
History of Cloves
Cloves are the unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree that is native to Indonesia but have been found in vessels in Syria dating back to the 1700s BC, as well as documented trade by Muslim sailors in the Middle Ages and in Chinese medicine in the 3rd century BC. They are still used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, particularly as a pain killer and for digestive issues.
Nowadays cloves are harvested in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tanzania and Zanzibar. The flower buds turn bright red when they are ready to be harvested and are generally 1.5-2cm in length.
Cloves Flavour Profile
Cloves have a sweet and warming flavour which is incredibly strong so they only need to be used sparingly. They have a pungent, bittersweet scent with a slightly fruity, peppery edge.
They can be found whole or ground, with the ground cloves even stronger in flavour. I keep both on hand as the whole version are excellent for broths however grinding them at home is hard work given they are incredibly strong, and they release an oil that will break down any plastic in your grinder.
Cloves are used most commonly in Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and North African cuisines, as well as Indonesian and Vietnamese food, including in the broth for pho.
It is most often used in baked goods like cakes, cookies and sweet foods, but also works surprisingly well in savoury dishes including with meats like game, ham and pork, as well as in pickles. Cloves also pair well with apples, oranges, chocolate, carrots, beetroot, citrus fruits, peaches, pineapple, pumpkin, yams, onions, sweet potato, nuts and red wine. Try it in curries, marinades and in mulled wine!
Cloves are actually used in a number of spice blends including Chinese five-spice, garam masala, ras el hanout, baharat and dukkah.
Common Spice Pairings
Spices that pair excellently with cloves include:
- bay leaf
- star anise
One of the most natural uses for cloves is definitely in gingerbread or related deliciousness, so I’d recommend you give these ginger cookies a try, which I shared on the blog almost 3 (!) years ago!