We all use cloves in our cooking and cloves are usually a ‘must have’ in our spice rack. But did you ever stop to wonder, what a clove really is? The cloves we use are actually fully grown flower buds picked before they open and then dried. Interestingly, clove flowers are small and crimson with [...]


The flower bud that is Clove


We all use cloves in our cooking and cloves are usually a ‘must have’ in our spice rack. But did you ever stop to wonder, what a clove really is? The cloves we use are actually fully grown flower buds picked before they open and then dried. Interestingly, clove flowers are small and crimson with yellow petals that can be seen only if the buds are not harvested.

Clove buds appear in small clusters and are picked with the stalks when just turning pink at the base with the harvesting season being between December and April. The flower buds are detached from the stalks and both buds and stalks are dried in the sun or in an artificial drier until they become hard. Well dried good quality cloves have reddish brown stems and a lighter crown. Cloves that are not well dried and of good quality are soft and pale brown with a whitish mealy appearance.

Clove, scientifically Syzygium aromaticum in the family Myrtaceae is borne on evergreen trees with shiny dark green leaves that can grow up to 10 to 12 metres. Karabu neti or Karabu in Sinhala and Kirambu in Tamil is recognized among the best four spices in the world along with cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. In Sri Lanka cloves are mainly grown in the mid-country wet zone, Kandy, Kegalle and Matale districts being the major growing areas. No specific varieties of cloves have been identified. However there are trees that produce larger clove buds – ‘bothal karabu’ where the aroma of cloves is assertive and warm with notes of pepper and camphor. The taste is fruity but also sharp, hot and bitter, leaving a numbing sensation in the mouth.

Storing and using cloves
The very strong flavour of cloves is why they should always be used sparingly. Whole cloves must be stored in an airtight glass or plastic container in a cool, dark and dry place. If the cloves are well dried they can be stored up to two years. If you require clove powder, always hand mill or use a grinder. Powdered cloves should be used as soon as possible as the flavour is easily lost. If you need to store it, keep in the refrigerator in a well closed container.

Quality of cloves
The compound eugenol present in clove essential oil is most responsible for the characteristic aroma and taste of cloves. Clove oil is obtained by the distillation of flower buds, leaves and stems. However, the oil obtained from the flower bud has the highest content of eugenol with the content varying between 70 and 80%. The Sri Lankan clove is reported to be richer in oil than those from other growing countries with concentrations of up to 18% in the buds.

Clove oil is a powerful essential oil with a broad range of therapeutic properties thanks to the variety of flavonoids present in the oil. Cloves are an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of vitamin K, dietary fibre, iron, magnesium and calcium.

Uses of cloves
Cloves are equally good in sweet and savoury dishes. They are a very important ingredient in Sri Lankan and Indian spice blends that are used to flavour meat dishes, rice and pickles often in combination with cinnamon and cardamom. They are always needed in our curry powders and garam masala. Cloves are a key flavour contributor to salad dressings, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and seasoning blends. Cloves are also popularly inserted stem-first into meats for roasting.

At Christmas, cloves dot the Christmas ham and go into baked goods, desserts, syrups, and preserves. A single clove can be pressed into an onion to flavour a stew, stock or sauce. Since they have a very intense flavour, use in moderation so as not to overpower other flavours and if using a whole clove, bruise it a bit for optimum benefit.

Cloves have their place in many Ayurvedic, Indian and Chinese traditional medicines. They are also used in perfumes and cosmetics.A few cloves placed inside a clean sock will freshen up musty closets and drawers andl leave clothes smelling sweet and fresh.

Health benefits Good for digestion and metabolism
Cloves stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes, therefore improving digestion and are also good for reducing flatulence, gastric irritability and nausea. The manganese in cloves improves carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, and helps your body get rid of excess fat. It also helps absorb vital vitamins such as vitamin B and E and minerals such as magnesium.

Boosts immune system
Cloves contain high amounts of antioxidants which help the immune system in fighting against oxidative damage and free radicals.

Treats oral diseases
The antibacterial property of cloves helps minimize the spread of bacteria inside the mouth and helps treat oral conditions such as gum inflammation and infection. Directly chewing whole buds or rinsing your mouth with the oil mixed in water can reduce oral bacteria and freshen up your breath.

Remedy for toothache
Clove oil can be used as a natural painkiller for toothaches. This is one of the main reasons it is listed as an ingredient in many toothpastes and mouth washes.

Eases congestion
A tea that contains cloves can help ease respiratory infections. Cloves work as an expectorant, loosening mucus in the throat and esophagus. Try a few drops of clove oil in a warm mix of water and honey that will help you to cough up phlegm more easily.

Good antioxidant properties
Clove essential oil is rich in minerals, such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus, iron and Vitamins A and C and as such has good antioxidant properties that are useful for maintaining healthy skin and body.

Checking clove quality
Best quality cloves will release some of their oil when squeezed with a fingernail. Alternatively, place a clove in a cup of water, cloves of good quality will float vertically while those that are stale will either sink or float horizontally. The best ones can be bent even when they are dried.

Cloves to relieve stress
Eugenol present in cloves is a well- known muscle relaxant. So if you are stressed out, make a flavoured tea with a mix of cloves, basil, mint and cardamom in hot water. Take this along with a little honey.

Or you can even add a few drops of clove oil to your bath water to help you unwind while having an extended soak.
These will help soothe your senses and relieve stress.

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