The clove tree is a tropical evergreen of the myrtle family which grows to a height of about 12 m. Its crimson flowers seldom open and it is these unopened flower buds that constitute the clove spice.
Native range Moluccas (part of the Indonesian archipelago)
Major producers Indonesia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Tanzania
Harvesting Clove buds appear in small clusters, twice a year, from July to September and July to January. Cloves are harvested by hand to avoid damaging the branches and affecting future crops. The clove buds are then dried in the sun and turn reddish to dark brown.
Taste and aroma Cloves have a powerful fragrant aroma, with hints of pepper and camphor. The taste is fruity but also sharp, hot, and bitter.
Culinary uses Cloves are included in many classic spice mixtures including Chinese five spice powder, curry powders, pickling spices, and ground mixed spice for baking. Whole cloves are often used to flavour cooking liquids for simmering fish, poultry, or meat, and as a garnish for baked hams. Cloves have a particular association with apples and are added to apple sauces, tarts, and other desserts.
Other uses Oil of cloves which is distilled from buds, leaves, and stalks is a strong antiseptic and preservative. It is used in toothpastes and mouthwashes.
Historical uses Chinese physicians appreciated the medicinal benefits of cloves as early as 3 BC. Dignitaries visiting the emperor were expected to suck cloves to sweeten their breath. The natives of the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) used to plant a clove tree to celebrate the birth of a child.
Storage Whole cloves will keep for at least a year if stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool place away from strong light.