Clove, an aromatic spice, without which you cannot do mulled wine or egg cognac. How does it benefit our health?

From the first look at this original spice, it is clear to us why it has such a special name.

Not only the shape, but also the taste and smell of cloves is completely unique.

Did you know that these are actually the dried flowers of a tropical tree?

What foods and drinks do they go best with?

How is it that it has such a beneficial effect on our stomach and teeth?

Follow the footsteps of this little miracle with us.

What is a clove?

Clove is a spice that is made from the flower buds of an evergreen tree called clove (Syzygium aromaticum), which comes from the Indonesian archipelago of the Moluccas. Clove grows to a height of 26-40 meters and blooms approximately after 6 years. The tree fully matures in 20 years and can bear fruit for more than 80 years.

The calyx with the bud is collected at the time when it turns from green to red, as this is when they contain the most aromatic substances. Interestingly, just like the flowers, the leaves of cloves also smell. Harvested cloves are reddish-brown, 0.5-0.75 cm long, and consist of stems with four unopened petals that form a small ball in the middle.

After harvesting, the clove buds are spread out in a thin layer on a mat and dried in the sun or using an artificial dryer. They look like small nails, hence the name of the spice. In addition to cooking, it is also used in medicine.

Flowering clove tree.

What does clove taste like?

Cloves are a sharp, warm spice with an intense flavor and aroma, thanks to an essential oil called eugenol. On the tongue it shows sweetness, bitterness and bitterness with a noticeable amount of heat. It’s known for its intensity, which means you’ll have to be careful with how much you use.

Even in relatively small amounts, it can easily overpower other flavors in a dish. Similar warming spices include nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice, with which it is often combined.

Cloves are used to flavor meat, rice, sweet desserts and drinks. Due to its unique taste and aroma, it is also part of many spice mixes, for example garam masala, Chinese spice mix of five scents or gingerbread spice.

Dried cloves on a wooden spoon.

Whole clove vs. ground cloves

This aromatic spice can be purchased in two forms, whole and ground. As with other types of spices, ground cloves lose their aroma and taste more quickly, so if necessary, it is better to grind or crush the whole clove only when we need it.

As a general rule of thumb, use 3/4 teaspoon of ground cloves for 1 teaspoon of whole cloves called for in the recipe.

  • Whole clove – is mainly used to flavor drinks, for example mulled wine, punch or egg cognac. It is also added to rice dishes, sauces or soups. Last but not least, it is also used when pickling mushrooms and vegetables. Whole cloves are usually removed from the dish before serving. Even after cooking, they have a very hard, woody structure that would be unpleasant to bite into.

  • Ground cloves – in ground form, cloves are mainly used in sweet dishes, they are added to gingerbread, Christmas pastries or apple or pumpkin pies.
Bowls with ground and whole cloves.

Origin and history

Clove is an endemic tree that originally grew only on the Moluccas in Indonesia. Trade in cloves from this island chain once known as the “Spice Islands” was so profitable that after the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667, the British ceded the islands to the Dutch in exchange for a distant settlement then known as New Amsterdam. The Dutch actually traded Manhattan for a clove.

However, cloves were known in Asia and Europe much earlier. The first records of it come from the 3rd century BC from China. In ancient China, this aromatic spice was used not only in cooking, perfumery and medicine, but also as an oral antiseptic for anyone who met the emperor to keep his breath as fresh as possible.

But the ancient Greeks and Romans also knew it. During the Middle Ages, it was a valuable commodity brought to Europe by Arab traders. Today, in addition to Indonesia, it is also widely cultivated in India, Madagascar, Zanzibar and some African countries.

How to eat cloves?

Cloves are very versatile in the kitchen, you can add them to many sweet and salty dishes and drinks.

  • Did you know that cloves are one of the key spices used in making the classic béchamel sauce? Prepare the best béchamel sauce with its help, which will delight your taste buds.

  • Cloves are very often used in Indian cuisine, you will appreciate them, for example, in the preparation of tikka masala , pieces of marinated chicken in curry sauce.

  • Cloves can also be used in the preparation of delicacies for grilling, you can easily use them to make various meat marinades special . Another option is to use whole cloves to simply pierce meat ready for baking or grilling.

  • How to bake a tasty gingerbread when you ran out of gingerbread spices at home? Mix cloves with other aromatic spices such as star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and nutmeg.

  • In desserts, this spice tastes great, especially in combination with apples or pumpkin. Try it in pumpkin pie recipes .

  • You can also liven up various types of soups with cloves. You will appreciate it, for example, when preparing onion soups , but you can also add it to classic broths.

  • One of the most common uses of this aromatic spice is to flavor hot drinks such as mulled wine or hot cider. You can’t do without it even when making homemade egg cognac .

  • Last but not least, add it to other ingredients for the preparation of pickles, sauces and chutney.
Ham pierced with a whole clove.

How to store cloves?

Cloves should be stored in an airtight container, preferably in a cool, dark place. Whole cloves retain their potency longer than ground cloves, with fresh cloves lasting approximately one year, while ground cloves only three months.

What to replace cloves with?

Cloves are often used together with cinnamon and nutmeg in sweet dishes. It is these two spices in a ratio of one to one that are most often used as a substitute for cloves. If you don’t have them, cloves can be replaced quite well with new spices.

Medicinal effects of cloves

In traditional medicine, cloves are used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine as a warming and stimulating agent. What positive effects does this aromatic spice have on our health?

  • High in antioxidants – cloves contain a compound called eugenol, which has been shown to act as a natural antioxidant. The study found that eugenol stopped oxidative damage caused by free radicals five times more effectively than vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant.

  • Anti-cancer effects – some research suggests that compounds in cloves may help protect against cancer. For example, a study showed that a concentrated amount of clove oil caused cell death in 80% of esophageal cancer cells or that eugenol promoted cell death in cervical cancer cells.

  • Antimicrobial effects – cloves can help stop the growth of microorganisms. Clove oil kills three common types of bacteria, including E. coli. For similar reasons, it is also used in skin care, for example for acne problems.

  • Benefits the oral cavity – the antibacterial properties of cloves support oral health, stopping the growth of bacteria that contribute to gum disease. Eugenol is a strong antiseptic, so it is added to mouthwashes and toothpastes for its disinfectant and analgesic effects.

  • Improves the condition of the liver – the compound eugenol can be especially beneficial for the liver. An animal study showed that the eugenol found in cloves helped reverse the symptoms of liver cirrhosis. Cloves are also high in antioxidants, which may help prevent liver disease through their ability to help reduce oxidative stress.

  • Regulates Blood Sugar – Research shows that compounds in cloves can help keep blood sugar under control. Clove and nigericin have been found to increase the uptake of sugar from the blood into cells, increase insulin secretion, and improve the function of the cells that produce insulin.

  • Supports bone health – certain compounds contained in cloves help preserve bone mass. An animal study found that clove extract, high in eugenol, improved several markers of osteoporosis and increased bone density and strength. Cloves are also rich in manganese, a mineral that is involved in bone formation and is very important for bone health.

  • Reduces the occurrence of stomach ulcers – stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are painful sores that form in the lining of the stomach, duodenum or esophagus. They are most often caused by a reduction in the protective lining of the stomach, which is caused by factors such as stress, infection and genetics. Clove essential oil increases the production of gastric mucus, which acts as a barrier and helps prevent erosion of the stomach lining by digestive acids.

Side effects of cloves

Although cloves and clove oil are generally considered safe for topical use, ingestion has been found to affect the diversity of gut microflora due to the sensitivity of even some of the beneficial bacteria in the gut biome to eugenol.

In general, it is not recommended to ingest clove oil in large quantities. Instead, it is recommended to apply clove oil to the skin or gums or use it as a mouthwash. Take special care to prevent clove oil from being ingested by young children.

Eugenol also slows blood clotting and may lead to an increased risk of bleeding. Cloves should therefore be avoided by people with bleeding disorders, people who are preparing for surgery, and people taking anticoagulant drugs. Eugenol can sometimes interact with medications such as warfarin.

Since cloves lower blood sugar, it should also be avoided by people with hypoglycemia.

Nutritional values, vitamins and minerals in cloves

Like many other spices, cloves are relatively high in calories. However, due to the fact that only a very small amount is ever used, this fact is not a significant problem. The tables show values for one teaspoon or 2.1 grams of ground cloves.

Calorie Proteins Fats Carbohydrates Fiber
5.75 kcal 0.125 g 0.273 g 1.38 g 0.712 g

Of the minerals, cloves are particularly rich in manganese and magnesium.

Potassium Phosphorus Magnesium Manganese Selenium Calcium Iron
21.4 mg 2.18 mg 5.44 mg 1.26 mg 0.151 μg 13.3 mg 0.248 mg

Cloves also contain a large amount of vitamin K and some B vitamins.

Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B6 Vitamin C Vitamin K
0.003 mg 0.005 mg 0.033 mg 0.008 mg 0.004 mg 142 μg

Clove tea

In addition to the fact that you can add cloves to other types of tea, which will give them a more pronounced taste and aroma, tea can also be made from cloves alone. Just pour 5-6 whole cloves in approximately 200 milliliters of hot water and leave to infuse for approximately 10 minutes. This drink can be drunk, for example, when you have a cold or stomach upset. In addition, it can be used to rinse the oral cavity or rub problem areas on the skin.

A cup of clove tea.

How to chew cloves?

You can take advantage of the healing effects of cloves not only by consuming tea, but also by simply chewing on cloves. Depending on personal preference, you can either carefully chew the clove whole, usually two cloves are recommended, or put it in your mouth already in ground form. Leave it in your mouth for a while and then drink it with water.

In addition, ground cloves can also be mixed with a small amount of linseed or cinnamon oil. Chewing cloves is recommended to boost immunity, improve digestion and improve oral health.

Another use of cloves

Cloves can also be found in many products where we would not expect them at first glance.

  • Clove cigarettes or kretky – in Indonesia, cloves are mixed with tobacco and special cigarettes or cigars are made from the mixture. They usually contain 60 to 80% tobacco and 20 to 40% ground clove buds and clove oil. Other spices such as cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg are sometimes added. The name of the cigarette comes from the crackling sound these cigarettes make when lit.
The contents of a cigarette made from tobacco and spices, including cloves.
  • Worcestershire sauce – clove is one of the spices that gives a specific taste to this famous seasoning, which has a very versatile use in the kitchen. It is used to flavor various types of meats, sauces, soups, salads and is also part of the famous Bloody Mary drink.

  • Toothpastes and mouthwashes – due to the positive effects of clove on the condition of the oral cavity, it is often used as one of the ingredients of toothpastes and mouthwashes.

  • Repellents and insect repellants – the strong aroma of cloves repels insects, for this reason it is added to various natural preparations against insects.

  • Clove Essential Oil – used in aromatherapy to relieve stress.

  • Pot pourri – together with cinnamon, star anise and cardamom, cloves are often part of aromatic mixtures.

Milan & Ondra

We are both fans of good food and enjoy cooking. On this website, we want to inspire you with traditional, but also less common recipes. We will be happy if you try our recipes and let us know how you liked them. Bon appetite! :)