Ground cloves or cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) develop their unique aroma faster than whole cloves. Whole dried cloves look like little nails, and in fact their old English name clufu comes from the Latin word clavus, which means “little nail.”
Ground cloves are used in Christmas cookies and for seasoning desserts such as applesauce, jam, and compote. In this case, cloves go well with cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, and lemon. The fine powder is also used in spice blends such as curry powder, garam masala, quatre-épices, China Five spice, and the spicy African spice blend berbere. In small quantities, cloves also add a depth of flavor to stocks, soups, sauces, and marinades.
What are ground cloves? Is allspice the same thing? Ground cloves are clove buds that have been dried and ground. Allspice (Pimenta dioica) is also in the Myrtaceae family and has a flavor similar to that of cloves. Given its peppery pungency, allspice is also called myrtle pepper or Jamaica pepper. It also smells like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Whole cloves often serve only to add flavor and are removed after cooking. Spicy rice dishes, baked goods, curries, red cabbage, and pickled vegetables (e.g., pickles and sauerkraut) taste especially delicious with the addition of cloves. Whole cloves are added to hot drinks like mulled wine and punch around Christmas time. Certain liqueurs and fruit juices get their unique flavor from cloves.
The flower buds taste sweet, aromatic to hot and burning, while the stem is very bitter. Cloves can also be eaten raw.
Ground cloves can easily be made from whole cloves. Simply grind the whole cloves in a coffee grinder or spice mill.
Ingredients: 100 g coconut flour (alternative to white flour), 125 g whole wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 pinch ground cloves, 1 teaspoon grated orange peel; 350 mL orange juice, 50 g raisins, oil (e.g., canola oil), maple syrup.
Preparation: Mix together the dry ingredients. Add orange peel, raisins, and orange juice and stir vigorously until you have a nice batter. Heat oil and make 10 small pancakes from the batter. Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit.
How can you make clove oil yourself?
Ingredients: 50 mL cold-pressed, high-quality almond oil, 3 teaspoons ground cloves (or 10–15 whole cloves, freshly ground), 1 screw-top jar, 1 filter.
Preparation: Mix all ingredients in the screw-top jar and let stand in a dark, cool place for about 14 days. Similar to a tincture, you should shake the mixture well once a day. After 14 days, filter the oil and pour it into a dark brown glass bottle, preferably with a pipette.
Clove oil is always used diluted (with cooking oil or water). Clove oil is an effective natural anesthetic that can be applied topically using a cotton swab. Alternatively, you can also add it to your bath or foot bath. Clove oil may act as an irritant to skin and mucous membranes. You can test it on a small patch of skin and if it does irritate the skin, you should no longer apply it to the skin. Clove oil can also be used in an oil diffuser as a room fragrance, and it works as insect repellent.
Clove powder can be found at almost all supermarket chains such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); and Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia), particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Controlling the quality is difficult or even impossible, and it is hard to know how long the spice jar has been on the shelf.
Whole cloves, however, are available year-round. You can tell the quality is inferior if the cloves are wrinkly or dusty cloves, or the heads are broken or missing. A “float test” can be used to determine the quality of the cloves: those of lesser quality will float horizontally. This happens if they no longer contain hardly any essential oil. If they float vertically, with their stems pointing down, they’re of good quality. You can also test their quality by squeezing them with a fingernail; good quality cloves will release some of their oil.1
The best quality cloves come from the Moluccas, Zanzibar, and Madagascar. Unfortunately, the country of origin is not normally listed on the package.
Clove trees still grow wild on many of Indonesia’s islands, including Ternate and Tidor, two of the Maluku Islands (the Moluccas), and the island of New Guinea.2
Ground cloves lose their aroma very quickly. It is therefore important to store the spice in an airtight container out of direct light. For the best results, buy whole, high-quality cloves and grind them in a coffee grinder or crush them with a mortar and pestle as you need them. Whole cloves can retain their flavor for a very long time. If you store them in a dry place, protected from light and heat, the aromatic buds can last for 2–5 years.
Dried cloves, whole or ground, contain 274 kcal/100 g. They are very high in carbohydrates (78 %) and a significant source of fat (15 %), but their protein content is much lower (7 %). Dried cloves contain less than 10 % water.3
The amount of essential oil dried cloves contain varies according to their origin and quality, and can range from 15 to 22 %. The oil’s main components are eugenol (85 %), eugenol acetate (15 %) and beta-caryophyllene (5–12 %), while various tannins can comprise a further 8–14 %. Cloves also contain flavonoids, sterols, and approximately 10 % fatty oil.4
A study from Spain found that clove oil’s antioxidant content, comprised of polyphenols, is higher than that found in essential oils derived from oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage.5
Cloves are actually very good for you, but people generally consume spices in fairly small quantities. That notwithstanding, consuming herbs and spices daily can help considerably to cover a wide range of nutritional requirements, and they tend to have a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Cloves contain 141 µg/100 g vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for blood clotting and bone metabolism. Vitamin K is particularly abundant in green vegetables (Swiss chard, 830 µg/100 g) and herbs (fresh parsley, 1640 µg/100 g). Cloves also contain vitamin E (8.8 mg/100 g). This fat-soluble vitamin has important antioxidant properties, and is abundant in nuts and seeds such as almonds (25.6 mg) and sunflower seeds (35 mg). Smaller amounts of vitamin E can be obtained from vegetables like cabbage (2.3 mg) and various fruits, like mango (0.9 mg).3
Cloves also contain significant amounts of calcium (632 mg/100 g), a macromineral that is important for bones and teeth. Both anise seeds (646 mg) and star anise (650 mg) contain similar amounts of calcium. Fenugreek leaves are particularly rich in calcium: 3'275 mg.3
In addition, cloves’ magnesium content (259 mg /100 g) is similar to what you would find in black cumin (260 mg). Magnesium is important for metabolic enzyme functions and can help with muscle cramps. Whole hemp seeds contain a great deal of magnesium (700 mg/100 g).3
Potassium is essential in a healthy diet since it helps your cells regulate osmosis. Cloves’ potassium content (1'020 mg/100 g) is similar to pistachios’ (1'025 mg). Herbs, legumes, and nuts contain a lot of potassium: dried parsley contains 2'680 mg, and white beans contain 1'795 mg.3
Cloves are also a rich source of manganese, a trace element, at 60 mg/100 g, which is about double the manganese that ground ginger, saffron, and cardamom contain.3 Adults needs 1–1.5 mg manganese daily in order to maintain healthy cartilage.6
Cloves are also a good source of iron, another trace element (12 mg/100 g). It is almost unbelievable how much iron spices and herbs contain. The iron in your red blood cells is not only essential for transporting oxygen from your lungs to your muscles, but it also contributes to a healthy metabolism. Cloves’ iron content is similar to what you would find in fresh marjoram (13 mg) or cocoa beans (14 mg). Ground turmeric (55 mg) and wild mallow (malva, 78 mg) are also excellent sources of iron.3
You can use cloves in a tincture as mouthwash, and you can drink small quantities to stimulate digestion. If you would like to make your own tincture, refer to the “Recipe for Homemade Clove Oil” above the box at the beginning of the article. Cloves contain crategolic acid, which can have analgesic effects (effects that alleviate pain).7
Clove oil is an ingredient in Melissengeist, a German variant of an herbal tonic known as Carmelite water that is purported to have medicinal effects including stimulating the stomach and the appetite.4
How does clove oil work? The eugenol it contains has antimicrobial effects and can inhibit the "growing" of fungi, bacteria, and viruses. A Portuguese study showed promising effects on Candida and Aspergillus infections.8 Clove oil is reported to be particularly effective in treating vaginal yeast infections9 and in combating the "growing" of some bacteria that are responsible for acne.10 Eugeniin isolated from cloves is also reported to have antiviral effects, specifically in treating herpes.11
A Japanese study showed that a hot water extract of Geum japonicum (Asian herb bennet) can be used to prevent and treat the herpes simplex virus (HSV) in mice. A concentration of 5 µg/mL
was found to be effective for 50 % plaque reduction. Eugeniin also inhibited the "growing" of acyclovir-phosphonoacetic acid-resistant HSV-1, thymidine-kinase deficient HSV-1, and wild HSV type 2. Both eugeniin and phosphonoacetic acid inhibited viral DNA and late viral protein synthesis in their infected Vero cells, but not cellular protein synthesis at its inhibitory concentrations.
Cloves contain compounds that are said to help regulate the expression of certain genes in liver cells so that glucose metabolism might be regulated naturally.12
In studies on animal physiology, ground cloves were also mixed into feed of animals, whose antioxidant status improved as a result.20 Total antioxidant status (TAS) describes plasma’s capacity to compensate for reactive oxygen compounds (peroxides and oxygen radicals). It is a way to measure the antioxidant protection system.21
Clove capsules containing ground cloves are also commercially available. They can help with toothaches, bad breath, indigestion, and intestinal parasites. There do not seem to be side effects, but there are also no studies on exactly how effective they are or what the correct dosage might be.
Using too many cloves or too much clove oil can irritate your mucous membranes. You can irritate your mucus membranes with any spice that contains high quantities of essential oil, but their intense smell usually prevents this.4 Too much clove oil can cause tissue damage and trigger allergic reactions.
Pregnant women should avoid too many cloves or too much clove oil because cloves are thought to be able to induce labor. If you are trying to induce labor, we do recommend teas formulated for inducing labor that contain cloves.
Because of their antiseptic, somewhat numbing effect, cloves are perhaps best known as a topical dental pain reliever.13 Clove oil is particularly beneficial in homemade toothpaste.
Can you chew cloves? Chewing whole cloves for toothache or bad breath is a common home remedy.
Cloves are also used internally for gastrointestinal inflammation and intestinal parasites. Cloves are used in Chinese medicine as a remedy for nausea, hiccups, an ailment called “stomach cold,” and impotence.14
People prized cloves in the Middle Ages for their disinfecting properties, especially during outbreaks of plague and cholera.4 Where do cloves come from? Clove trees (Syzygium aromaticum) are originally from the Maluku Islands (the Moluccas) in Indonesia. The tree’s aromatic buds were carried by traders from there to India and then to the Mediterranean.15 The largest quantities of the spice were later produced on the African islands of Pemba and Zanzibar until the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, cloves primarily (80 %) come from Indonesia again. For a long time the Dutch had a monopoly on cloves, and even today a large part of the cloves from the Maluku Islands are still shipped there.
Clove trees are an evergreen variety that can reach a height of up to 10 m, sometimes even 20 m. Even in the tropical maritime climates that are ideal for their cultivation, clove trees do not bear fruit for the first five years of their lives. This is typical of the entire myrtle family, though, whose member trees contain essential oil in all their plant parts rather than just in their buds. The leaves are elliptical, 5–15 cm long, and have a leathery surface. Yellowish-white blossoms appear in clusters of 5–20 at the end of each branch in tripartite panicles.4
Harvesting cloves is very labor-intensive and has to be done at the right time. The buds are picked by hand when they change color from green to pink before the flowers open. In some places, the buds are carefully knocked from the trees with bamboo sticks, but mostly they are plucked from platforms. Cloves are harvested up to twice a year. High-quality, fresh cloves feel greasy and expel a little oil if you press your fingernail into the stem.16
After the harvest, the clove buds are dried on grass mats in the sun until they turn reddish brown. They lose a lot of water during the drying process, so their dried weight is down to one-fourth of their fresh weight.
Clove trees are not generally susceptible to pests, but there are some fungal pathogens such as Valsa eugeniae and Cryptosporella eugeniae, which can lead to major crop losses. These fungi infiltrate the trees from the roots up into the vascular system and cause them to die. In 1950 Valsa eugeniae destroyed half of the plantations on Zanzibar.17
There isn’t much danger of confusing cloves with other spices or plants, but Wood avens (Geum urbanum, herb Bennet, colewort, St. Benedict’s herb) is a medicinal herb from the rose family (Rosaceae) that is sometimes called clove wort. Wood avens’ rhizomes smell faintly of cloves, which made it popular in the kitchen as a clove substitute, and it also has weak analgesic and invigorating effects. Wood avens can be used for toothache and gastrointestinal disorders.4
Clove trees (Syzygium aromaticum) belong to the myrtle family (Myrtaceae). There are some outdated Latin synonyms: Eugenia caryophyllata Thunb., Eugenia caryophyllus (Spreng.), Eugenia aromatica (L.) Baill., and Caryophyllus aromaticus L.18
In the Middle Ages, whole cloves were used a symbol of the Passion of Christ because the buds look like nails. The German word “Nelke” even comes from the Middle German “negelken,” which means “little nail.”19 The word “clove” (as well as the Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, and Tagalog equivalents) comes originally from the Latin clavus, meaning “nail,” which refers to the shape of the clove. The name made its way into the English language via French (clou).
Cloves contain bioactive compounds that are used to repel ants. Oranges or lemons decorated with whole cloves make a popular and pleasantly scented decoration for the Christmas season.
While there are many alternative names in German, English just uses clove, cloves, whole cloves, or ground cloves, which comes from Middle English clowe and Anglo-French clou (de girofle), which simply means “nail of the clove” and comes from Latin clavus (nail).
Clove oil is distilled from the flower buds, the young leaves, and the tree bark and is mainly used in pharmaceuticals.13 The medical name for cloves is Caryophylli flos, and the medical name for the clove oil is Caryophylli aetheroleum.4
Clove cigarettes (kretek) are very popular in Indonesia, and they contribute to Indonesians having the highest consumption of cloves worldwide. Clove cigarettes contain a mixture of tobacco, ground cloves, and other ingredients sold by the Gudang Garam brand in German-speaking countries and by brands such as Djarum and Sampoerna elsewhere. Clove cigarettes are illegal in the United States.
Cloves are also a popular ingredient in incense, which is used in various types of rituals.7