Cloves, or Syzygium aromaticum, are thought to have originated in the Moluccan Islands, also known as the Spice Islands, of Indonesia. The spice itself is the dried flower bud of an evergreen tree. Cloves offer a warm and pungent flavor that is very unique to itself.
Cloves have been used for thousands of years and play an important role in history. Wars were fought with obtaining control of the profitable clove business as a central focus. Legend has it that natives in the Spice Islands would plant a clove tree each time a child was born, and the tree’s course became a representation of the child’s health and longevity.
Aside from their distinguished flavor, cloves have been used for many other purposes. It is said that cloves have antimicrobial qualities lending themselves to play an important role in food preservation. They are also uniquely high in antioxidants, thus providing some protection from free radicals. They have been used historically to reduce pain from toothaches and dental procedures.
Although not yet proven scientifically, cloves are thought to aid in fever reduction and blood sugar regulation. They may even act as an effective insect repellent. Although there are beneficial qualities, it is not recommended to take cloves in large doses for medicinal use as there may be deleterious health effects. Therefore, it’s important to enjoy them for the rich and luxurious spice that they are and consume in moderate quantities.
In the United States, cloves are most commonly enjoyed as a spice and are generally ubiquitous during the holiday season. Their deep, intense flavor stands up to rich meats and hearty stews. Whole cloves can be used in marinades or inserted into meats during the cooking process. They add warmth and richness to sauces, both sweet and savory. Cloves are used to impart aromatics in beverages such as tea. They pair well with baked fruit such as apples and pears, and sweet winter squashes like butternut squash and pumpkin. Simply remove the whole cloves prior to serving.