Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ingredient of the Day: Cloves

Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor. – William Cowper

Dried whole cloves. Can you smell them? Photo: Urban Hafner, Flickr ccl
I often use something in a recipe and then think “that would make a good post.” It’s funny because I always start out thinking I hnow what I’m going to write, but as I read about the subject the post very often takes on a life of its own. Cloves is no exception. I learn with you.

Clove flowers. Photo: YIM hafiz, Flickr ccl
For example, I kind of thought cloves were flower buds, but I wasn’t sure. Now I am….

Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree in the Myrtle family. Guava, feijoa, allspice, and eucalyptus are other members in the same family. Cloves are native to Indonesia and  are harvested mainly in Indonesia, India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

From Wikipedia
The scientific name of clove is Syzygium aromaticum. It belongs to the genus Syzygium, tribe Syzygieae, and subfamily Myrtoideae of the family Myrtaceae. It is classified in the order of Myrtales, which belong to superorder Rosids, under Eudicots of Dicotyledonae. Clove is an Angiospermic plant and belongs to division of Magnoliophyta in the kingdom Plantae.

Photo: G.Eickhoff, Flickr ccl
The English name derives from Latin clavus 'nail' (also the origin of French clou and Spanish clavo, 'nail') as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape.

Clove is an evergreen that grows to a height ranging from 24–40 ft (8–12 m). The buds start off a pale color and gradually become green and then bright red. It’s when they’re red that they are ready for collecting and drying.

Cloves are wonderful in both sweet and savoury dishes. On Valentines Day (two days ago) I posted a recipe for chocolate cake with a pink clove drizzle. The clove with the chocolate was a wonderful combination. I also personally use cloves in my version of the classic Osso Bucco and a dish I made up that has Persian influences called Beef Marakesh

Photo: Amandabhslater, Flickr ccl
Cloves are used in cooking both whole and ground. They have a very strong and recognizable taste and smell so are often used very sparingly in cooking. Cloves are used in many of the cuisines around the world.

Cloves is a key ingredient in the Northern Indian spice mix Garam masala. In south Indian cuisine it is commonly used in biryani. Cloves are also used in chai tea. Mexican cooking uses cloves in combination with cumin and cinnamon, most famously in mole (pronounced mow-lay, not “mole”) sauce.

Due to their Indonesian colonial connection, cloves are common in Dutch cuisine. They are used in cheese, stews and baking. Most other European and North American uses are more commonly in baked goods as opposed to the main portion of the meal. This is a shame. Cloves really adds a lot to anything it's used in.

This first use is sort of healthy, I guess. Cloves are used in non-tobacco cigarettes called Kreteks (they're under another brand name in the USA due to a law prohibiting them). I have had friends who tried to kick tobacco by smoking them. They smell terrible.

Cloves are an important note in perfume making because of their aromatic qualities. We all can capture some of this by studding an orange with cloves and hanging it. Or if you want your home to have a wonderful fragrance boil several whole cloves in water on the stove. The steam will fill the house with the essence of cloves.

Photo: Fras1977, Flickr ccl
Cloves are used in many of the more ancient medicines of the world where the essential oil is sometimes used as a painkiller. Clove oil is also used against various skin disorders like acne. It is also used in severe burns, skin irritations and to reduce the sensitivity of skin.

Western studies have supported the use of cloves and clove oil for dental pain. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels. The buds have anti-oxidant properties. Apparently clove has also been studied for treating premature ejaculation, but the studies have proven inconclusive.

Of course for any medicinal effect one must ingest far more clove (and far more often) than one would in a normal diet.There are clove supplements available, but there are several safety concerns and possible drug interactions.

So if you go looking for more information and think that clove is what you need talk to your doctor first.

Hopefully you now know a little more about cloves than before. I know I do. 


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