Cloves, Syzygium aromaticum, are actually dried, aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Indigenous to the Maluku Islands (historically known as the Spice Islands) they are typically used as a spice. Clove gets its name from the similarity of the flower buds of this plant with a rusty clove.
The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to 25-40 feet tall, with large leaves and flowers grouped in clusters. Trees must reach at least 6 years in age before they are able to bear harvestable cloves. Cloves must be collected before the flower bud has opened. The cloves are formed by four petals of the corolla (petals of the flower) and four pieces from the chalice (the cup like blossom). The flowers start off pink in color but then turn a deep red hue. At this point they are harvested, if the flower is allow to open they love their signature aroma. Picked cloves are approximately 1/2"-3/4" long.
Today the world's largest producers of cloves are Brazil, China, Comoros (located just northwest of Madagascar), Grenada, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. Our cloves are cultivated in Indonesia.
Ancient cloves have been discovered by archeologists in Syria that date back to 1721 BC. Cloves are native to the Maluku Islands which include Bacan, Makian, Moti, Ternate, and Tidore. Arborists believe that the oldest clove tree in the world is between 350 and 400 years old and is located on the island of Ternate. During early trading of cloves they were traded much like oil is today with a strict limit on the amount available for export in order to keep the prices high. During the 1600’s the Dutch East India Company welded great control in the spice trade and attempted to dominate the production of cloves as they had been able to with nutmeg and mace. This proved to be a bit difficult.
Cloves have a colorful history that spins a tale of how seedlings from this tree were stolen by a Frenchman in 1770. These seeds were eventually smuggled into Zanzibar where they were planted and cultivated. For a while Zanzibar became one of world's largest producers of cloves.
Cloves are popular in the cuisines of China, Greece, India, Russia and Scandinavia. In Mexican cuisine, cloves are called “clavos de olor”, and are often paired with Ceylon cinnamon and cumin.
In Asia cloves are popular in curries; the Dutch used them generously to flavor cheese; the English like them to season apple pie; the French combine them with onion to flavor sauces, stews and stocks; the Germans prefer them in spiced breads; in Eastern and Northern Africa they play a starring role and are often paired with cardamom and cinnamon, in spice blends used to flavor meat dishes and rice.
Ground Cloves have had the clove heads removed prior to grinding so they have a milder taste than whole cloves. And as you do not have to remove the whole clove prior to serving many cooks prefer to use the ground version. Ground Cloves are a key ingredient in several spice seasoning blends, such as Chinese Five Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice and Garam Masala.
The taste of cloves is fruity but sharp, bitter with a hint of heat. They leave a bit of a numbing sensation in the mouth. The aroma is warm and assertive with peppery undertones.
Add a dash of ground cloves to baked beans, barbecue rubs and sauces, chili, tomato sauce and spaghetti. Cloves are an excellent compliment to apples, beets, red cabbage, carrots, chocolate, hams, onions, oranges, pork, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash, and in cranberry juice.
Cloves work well when paired with allspice, bay, cardamom, cinnamon, chili, coriander, curry leaves, fennel, ginger, mace, nutmeg and tamarind.
In our country whole cloves are traditionally used to stud pork roasts and hams.
You should always remove whole cloves prior to serving any dish.
Both whole and ground cloves are very potent, so begin with smaller portions. For a serving of 4 use approximately 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and work your way up from there (you can always add more if you desire more flavor). For cooking with whole cloves add 3 or 4 to each 2 quarts of stock.
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