Cloves seem to be the kind of spice most people only hear about when they start in on their holiday baking. We know cloves go into pumpkin pie, and gingerbread but aside from that what do we really use them for? And how many of us actually know what a clove is? I know I for one am totally guilty of only for the most part using cloves as a seasonal ingredient. However after writing this post I’m convinced that clove can, and should be so much more then that. There are so many awesome benefits to be had where cloves are concerned, that we should try to include them into more meals year round. I know I’ll be testing out a few new ways to incorporate cloves in the weeks to come.
Cloves are native to the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, (formerly known as the Spice Islands) and are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree belonging to the Myrtaceae Family. Interestingly cloves are the unopened pink buds of the evergreen clove tree, which are hand picked and dried until they turn brown. Due to their resemblance to tiny nails their English name Clove, is actually derived from the Latin clavus which means nail. While cloves have been used throughout the world for thousands of years, across many different cultures they were exclusively grown and harvested in Indonesia. In fact it wasn’t until modern times that commercial production of cloves began taking place in India, Madagascar, Pakistan, Zanzibar (which is one of the leading clove producers today) Brazil and the Caribbean.
Though they were virtually exclusive to Indonesia they somehow made their way west to The Middle East and Europe sometime before the 1st century AD, as archeologists have found cloves within ceramic dishes in Syria with evidence that dates them to within a few years of 1721 BC. Dating back to the 3rd century BC Chinese courtiers were required to keep cloves in their mouths and chew them, as their sweet and fragrant taste would freshen their breaths so as not to offend the Emperor. Cloves, along with nutmeg and pepper were highly prized by the Romans.
Despite Arab traders having brought cloves to Europe, they did not become popular there until the Middle Ages when they became prized for their ability to mask the taste of poorly preserved foods. In the Middle Ages Cloves were traded by Muslim sailors and merchants via the Indian Ocean Trade, however in the 15th century the trade route was taken over by Portugal due to the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain, and a separate treaty with the Sultan of Temate. The Portuguese were responsible for brining large quantities of cloves to Europe from the Maluku Islands. Cloves then became one of the most valuable spices costing 7g of gold for 1 kg of cloves.
The high cost of cloves and other spices drove Spain to seek out new trade routes to the Maluku Islands. However the voyages sponsored by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain were largely unsuccessful. Though they were briefly able to capture the trade from the Portugese the trade became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th Century. In 1770 the French, after great difficulty were able to transplant the Clove tree into Mauritius. Their cultivation was then introduced into Guiana, Brazil, Zanzibar and most of the West Indies.
Interestingly during the 17th and 18th century in Britain Cloves were worth their weight in gold due to the high price of importing them.
Clove and Clove oil have a long history of use in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, Chinese Medicine and Herbalism. Cloves are used as a carminative to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis. Cloves are also said to be a natural anthelmintic. The essential oil is often used in aromatherapy when stimulation and warming are needed particularly for digestive problems. Topical application of clove over the stomach or abdomen are said to warm the digestive tract. Cloves are also used in conjunction with ginseng and patchouli to aid in morning sickness, or for vomiting or diarrhea due to spleen and stomach upset.
Clove oil when applied to a cavity or decayed tooth can also relieve toothache, and can help to decrease infection in the teeth due to it’s antiseptic properties.
Clove oil is also used in various skin disorders such as acne, and is used in treatment of severe burns, general skin irritations and to relieve skin irritation.
As far as modern medicine is concerned however cloves are still being researched for their beneficial properties and uses as treatment. It’s been discovered that Clove contains a significant amount of an active component called eugenol, (which makes up 72-90% of the essential oil extracted from clove) which has made it the subject of numerous health studies, including studies on prevention of toxicity from environmental pollutants like carbon tetrachloride, digestive tract cancers and joint inflamation. In the United States, eugenol extracts from clove have often been used in dentistry in relation to root canal therapy, temporary fillings and general gum pain. Eugenol and other components of clove such as beta-caryophyllene, combine to make clove a mild anaesthetic, as well as an anti-bacterial, because of this you’ll find clove oil in many over the counter sore throat sprays and mouth washes.
Eugenol functions as an anti-inflammatory, and in animal studies the addition of clove extract in diets already high in anti-inflammatory compounds brings significant added benefits. Other studies have shown it can reduce inflammatory symptoms by an additional 15-30% Clove also contains a variety of flavonoids, including kaempferol and rhamnetin which also help contribute to cloves anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Like many of it’s fellow spices clove’s unique phytonutrient components are accompanied by a wide variety of traditionally-recognized nutrients. They are an excellent source of manganese, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin C, Calcium and magnesium.
Though here in the west we know cloves as being one of those quintessential autumn and winter spices without which our pumpkin pies and gingerbreads just wouldn’t be the same; they are actually used extensively in many cuisines, and frequently appear in spicy dishes. Cloves are constantly used in Indian cuisine, in both North and South Indian fare. In North Indian food cloves are almost used to add flavor to rich and spicy dishes. It is one of the ingredients of garam masala and is used in biryani as well as many other rice pilafs. So next time you make a pilaf add a little clove! Clove is also traditionally used to make masala chai tea. It’s also used to season the traditional Vietnamese soup Pho. Seasoning soup broth is a great way to add in a little sweet spicy flavor. You can use it in chili or stews to add that comfy warming feeling. Add it into any baked good including pancakes or waffles. You can simmer cloves and cinnamon in apple cider to impart a nice flavor. Add it into pies, crumbles, cobblers, jams, jellies and fruit compotes. Use it to season the poaching liquid when poaching pears, apples or peaches. Bake fruit with cloves and cinnamon. You can also add cloves to your favorite stuffing recipe or use it in a Jerk Marinade. A lot of great things can be done with clove so don’t be afraid to experiment. However because their flavor is very potent keep in mind that a little goes a long way!
May your life be rich in spice! and as always Happy and Healthy Eating to you!