Cloves are actually dried flower buds, and they add a deep, sweet aroma to dishes. They can be used whole or ground, but one thing remains constant: The taste is strong, so use them sparingly. Raw cloves are bitter.
Cloves — used in Asian, Mexican and European cooking — generally accompany spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Cloves have long been used in ayurvedic medicine and incense, but they’re also found in some cigarettes.
Did you know? The essential oil in cloves is a local anesthetic, and it’s sometimes used in mouthwash.
The Clove plant belongs to the plant family Myrtaceae (myrtle) and has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. The Botanical name Caryophyllus aromaticus is derived from the Latin “clavus” which means nail because of the shape resemblance.
The dried buds are the parts used for culinary purposes as well as for their aromatic qualities: pomanders made from citrus fruits and studded with cloves, were certainly very popular back in the 17th century in England.
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Whilst the clove tree is native to the Molucca (spice) Islands (now a part of Indonesia) Madagascar, Brazil, Panang, Ceylon, Sri Lanka and Malayasia are also producers. Trade between the “clove island” Ternate (now Gamalama) and China dates back at least 2500 years. At that time in China, cloves were not only used for cooking but also for deodorising. In early writings from the Han dynasty in China (207 BC to AD 220) it is reported that anyone having an audience with the emperor had to chew cloves to sweeten their breaths and mask any undesirable smells.
Arab traders brought cloves to Europe around the 4th century at which time they controlled the market and set the high prices paid by Europeans. By the early 16th century, Portugal conquered and controlled the spice islands and continued to do so for over 100 years. Then in the early 17th century, the Dutch gained control of the trade and continued to keep prices high for Europeans.