Sharp, spicy flavor and strongly aromatic. Used for studding ham, with boiled beef, pulses or stewed fruits, in mulled wines and punches, in spiced cakes and baking; also an ingredient in many Middle Eastern and Indian spice mixes.

Cloves are the heavily scented, dried, unopened buds of the clove tree, which is an evergreen native to the Moluccas. Cloves are nail shaped and their name derives from the Latin word for nail, clavus. They grow best close to the coast –cloves must see the sea to prosper, or so goes the old saying- and in those areas where they are cultivated, their rich aroma frequently welcomes the tourist even before sighting land.

How to Identify cloves

Cloves are the unopened, nail-shaped buds of the clove tree, a tropical evergreen that grows up to a height of 45 feet (14m) with shiny dark green leaves and small crimson flowers with yellow petals, when allowed to bloom. The buds are green first, turning a bright pink-red color afterwards. Buds are picked before they open into flowers. Then the buds turn brown, which prevents their decaying. Finally, they shrivel up into the brownish black form we are familiar with as a spice.

The clove tree originated in the Moluccas (Indonesia) and it is now successfully cultivated in the West Indies, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Brazil and India. The clove tree seems to grow better in the humid environment close to the tropical seas.

How to use and store

Cloves are available whole dried or ground. It is preferable to buy them whole, because crumbling the small heads to powder when required is not a problem and ground cloves become stale with keeping. To produce 1 tsp ground clove, 30-40 whole cloves need to be crushed.

They are used in both sweet and savory dishes, sauces, English bread sauces come to mind, as an accompaniment to glazed ham, frequently added to flavor apple, pear, and other fruit dishes, in curries, pilafs, with lentils, beans and other pulses, meat and game stews, in spiced wines, liqueurs and pickles, milk puddings and in confectionery.  Clove is a fundamental addition to English mince pies and Christmas puddings.

Clove and onion make a good match and they impart a subtly intangible flavor to lentil soup, but perhaps this combination is most useful in the cooking broth for salt meats, such as boiled bacon or ham, ox-tongue or silverside, when this delicate aroma is infused into the boiled joint. One of the clove’s most decorative uses is with glazed ham or gammon where the fat is spread with honey, maple syrup, or sugar, studded with cloves and baked in the oven until a golden brown glaze is achieved.

How to grow

Cloves are mainly cultivated in topical plantations close to the sea. In the Moluccas, there are complex rituals, related to their religious values, involved with the planting and cultivation of this tree. Initiated, it is the general belief, after the 17th century Dutch coloninsts decimated the crop.

Cooking with cloves

Cloves are used in many recipes, from roasts such as glazed ham to soups and stews. Recipes with clove appear in many different cuisines.

Clove substitution

Use 1/2 tsp ground clove in place of 2-3 whole cloves.

If your recipe calls for clove and you don't have it, substitute 1 tsp ground cloves with 1 tsp ground allspice.

Use cloves to flavor stewed apples. They will also improve the flavor of stewed pears and other simple stewed fruits.

eugenia caryophillus (myrtaceae) - clove - French: girofle - German: gewürznelke - Italian: chiodo di garofano - Spanish: clavo.


Chinese people knew and used cloves already in the 3rd century BC. Later, the Romans made use of clove not only as a culinary spice but the oil extracted from cloves was an ingredient in perfumes or medicines. Rubbing a clove oil based gel in the gums is still today a remedy to relief teething pains.

Europeans made clove widely popular in the Middle Ages, when cloves were very much in use, not only in the cooking pot, but also as an antiseptic and in pomanders to freshen the air. Cloves are considered one of the top four of the spice world, the other three being pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Almost every kitchen counts with a jar of cloves in the pantry, even though this is not a spice for everyday use, because its flavor is too sharp and strong.