saturday spice: cloves, the nail spice


previous saturday spices: 

cardamom, 11/15/15

[cloves, eugenia caryophyllis/syzgium aromaticum, the nail spice]

The word “clove” comes from the Latin clavus, meaning “nail” on account of their being shaped like nails. The spice is the dried, unopened bud of an evergreen, Syzgium Aromaticum.

Cloves, like cardamom, are a native of the Spice Islands (Molucca Islands/Malaka Islands) in Indonesia, east of Sulawesi, west of New Guinea, and north of Timor. The spice has played a major role in world history since before the birth of Christ. From the 4th to the 15th century, common era, the Arab world controlled the spice trade, until the Portuguese sailed all the way to Indonesia in 1514 CE and established a monopoly. During the 8th century, spices were commonly traded throughout Europe and Italy, the port of entry, profited from the industry.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch landed in the Molucca Islands and established their own monopoly alongside the Portuguese. Together, they ruled over the spice trade until the 18th century, when spices were being grown all over the world, prices were lowered as a result, and people at all levels of society had access to the materials.




In order to maintain their control over the trees, the Dutch burned any clove trees planted outside their dominion, upsetting the locals. It was a tradition in Indonesia to plant a clove tree for the birth of a child, linking the life of the tree to the fate of the child, and the destruction of these trees by the Dutch was a great offense to the children to whose lives they were tied. People revolted, inciting bloody war over the clove trees.

While the Dutch and Portuguese held reign over the spice trees, cloves and other spices were worth their weight in gold, but by the time Magellan reached them, prices had dropped dramatically and the monopolies had dissolved. Now, cloves are grown in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Mauritius, Ternate, Tidore, and around Indonesia. In fact, Tanzania now produces 80% of the world’s supply of cloves.


satspice_cloves-3     satspice_cloves-2


how cloves are used

Cloves have significant medicinal value, as well as long-standing culinary use. The buds contain eugenol, a natural anesthetic, and salicylic acid. As a result, they have served to relieve toothaches, nausea, indigestion, coughs, and other medical ailments. In food, they’re a key ingredient in meat glazes, soup stocks, spice mixes, Worcestershire sauce, gingerbread, spiced pastries, and winter beverages, as well as the base for Indonesian clove cigarettes, kreteks.

As I have learned from first-hand experience, the flavor of the bud is powerful, so use it sparingly. If you’re using 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, for example, consider only using 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, unless you like the fuzzy numb feeling on your tongue.





what can i make with cloves?

Cloves pack a punch, so beware how much of the spice you use. A small pinch is enough to give you a full flavor experience. Here are two of my recipes that use the spice:

spiced black tea apple pie | | pumpkin streusel muffins

other ideas:

gingersnaps | | glazed ham | | indian curry | | eggnog | | pumpkin pie | | spiced apple cider | | mulled wine | | chai | | cincinnati chili | | soup stock



ACH Food Companies. “Spice Encyclopedia: Cloves.” Spice Advice.

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants. UCLA History and Special Collections. London, Churchill, 1880.

Discover Indonesia Online. “Maluku: History of Maluku.” (20 May 2011.)

Gladen, Cynthia. “Cloves.” University of Minnesota Libraries.

Rayment, W.J. “History of Cloves.” InDepthInfo.


Happy Holidays!

Nick P.

upcoming saturday spices:



cayenne pepper

Categories: saturday spice