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Cloves from A to Z: 26 Things to Know about Cloves

Cloves from A to Z: 26 Things to Know about Cloves

The clove tree is one of the oldest ones that exists, its flower buds have a variety of uses and purposes, from culinary to digestive

By FDL on

It is the name of the oldest clove tree in the world, which is found on Ternate, an island of the Moluccas, in Eastern Indonesia. The tree is between 350 and 400 years old.

This is what cloves are: dried flower buds of the tree Syzygium aromaticum, belonging to the Myrtaceae family. It is an evergreen which bears sanguine flowers.

Cloves are an important ingredient of aromatic tea preparations very popular in different countries. Indian masala chai is a flavored tea beverage made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic spices, including cloves.

Dante Alighieri, the famous Italian poet, talks about cloves as a top luxury good in his Divina Commedia (Inf. XXIX, 127-129), saying they were used by frivolous squanderers from the town of Siena for their millionaire roast meat.

It is the chemical compound most responsible for the cloves' aroma, constituting around 80% of it.

The culinary use of cloves is spread all over the world. In India, they are an important spice for biryanis and curries; in Mexico they are often used in preparations along with cinnamon and cumin; in African and Middle Eastern cooking for adding flavor to meats. Recommended with game, they are also used to create sweet dishes.

Cloves have been for centuries one of the world's most valuable and expensive commodities. In Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries, cloves were worth at least their weight in gold, due to the high price of importing them.

The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty in ancient China, and it ruled over the country from 206 BC to 220 AD. The Han used to chew cloves to freshen their breath, and they required those who addressed them to do the same. They also used them in food and medicine.

Incense Road
Cloves were among the spice and luxury goods traded in the ancient Incense trade route, a network of land and sea trading routes linking the Mediterranean world with Eastern Africa and Arabia to India and beyond. It flourished between 7th century BC to 2nd century AD.

Jour de Jirofle
The “Cloves Day” fell on 1st July in the Republican Calendar created during the French revolution and used in between 1792 à 1806, as well as during the Paris Commune.

It is the name of the very popular Indonesian cigarettes aromatized with cloves. Kreteks have been smoked throughout Europe, Asia and the United States (in 2009 they were outlawed in the US). The word "kretek" itself is an onomatopoetic term for the crackling sound of burning cloves. They were created in the early 1880s as a means to deliver the eugenol of cloves to the lungs, as it was thought to help asthma.

Leaf oil
Clove oil can be extracted from the leaves, stem and buds. It is a very powerful essential oil, with a broad range of therapeutical properties. Its eugenol content varies: clove leaf oil contains a lower percentage of it. Moluccas. The Maluku islands are an archipelago within Indonesia; they are the motherland of cloves, which used to grow only on a few of them. They were previously known as Spice Islands.

The English name of cloves derives from Latin clavus – “nail” (also the origin of French “clou” and Spanish “clavo”) as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape.

Oxygen radical absorbance capacity is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities: the quantity contained in clove oil is so high as to make it the champion of all essential oils – which already have the highest ORAC scores of any known substance.

Pain d’epice
Cloves are one of the spices contained in "spice-bread" (loosely translated as gingerbread), a traditional French cake whose ingredients are rye flour, honey and spices.

Considered a very strong spice due to the eugenol chemical, the quantity of clove used in recipes is usually small, mostly limited to one unit.

Cloves are used as insects repellant, in particular for ants as well as moths: a handful of cloves in a little bag in the closet will keep them away.

Sinbad the Sailor
The clove trade is mentioned in the One Thousand and One Nights stories, where Sinbad the Sailor is said to have bought and sold cloves.

Cloves essential oil is used as a painkiller for dental emergencies in many countries, including the Maghreb ones. It is basically a local anesthetic. It is a popular ingredient in mouthwashes.

More than the culinary use, cloves have their place in many medicine traditions, including Indian Ayurvedic, Chinese and western phytotherapy. They are also used in perfumes and cosmetics.

Vin Brulé
Cloves are an essential ingredient in vin brulé, or mulled wine, a wintertime hot beverage made out of wine (traditionally red), sugar and spices.

In Chinese medicine cloves, ding xiang, are appreciated for their warming action. Topical application over the stomach or abdomen are said to warm the digestive tract. They are used to treat a variety of conditions, from hiccough to impotence.

XVIII Century BC
The oldest cloves found by archeologists date back to 1700 BC. The discovery was made within a ceramic vessel in Syria.

Yellowish brown
“Clove brown” refers to a brown color of dark yellowish tonality. It may also refer to a brownish gray that is yellower and lighter than average chocolate and yellower and deeper than taupe—called also eagle. Zanzibar. It is nowadays the largest cloves producer worldwide.

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