11 Fun Facts About Cloves You May Not Know

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Cloves are one of the most popular spices in the world, yet many people don’t know much about their interesting history and background. Read on for 11 fascinating clove facts that may surprise you!

1. Cloves are flower buds

Cloves are the dried, unopened flower buds of the clove tree, an evergreen also known as Syzygium aromaticum. The clove tree produces flower buds that are green at first before turning pink as they mature. They are then harvested and dried to produce the hard, woody cloves we know and love.

2. They originate from Indonesia

The clove tree is native to the Maluku or Spice Islands in Indonesia. Historians believe cloves were traded in China as early as 200 BC, but clove cultivation likely started in Indonesia around 1750 BC. Indonesia remains the world’s largest clove producer today, producing about 60-80% of the world’s supply.

3. They were once worth their weight in gold

During the Middle Ages in Europe, cloves were considered extravagantly expensive. At one point in history, they were worth their weight in gold! Portuguese and Dutch traders tightly controlled the valuable spice trade, engaging in bloody battles with local Indonesian rulers to dominate the lucrative market.

4. Cloves get their name from the Latin word for nail

The English name for cloves comes from the Latin word “clavus”, meaning nail. This refers to the distinctive nail-like shape andspike-like stem of the clove bud. In many languages, cloves are known by some variant of “nail”, including “gjiro” in Albanian and “đinh hương” in Vietnamese.

5. They have been used for toothache relief for ages

Cloves have a long history of dental use as a natural toothache remedy. Their antibacterial properties provide temporary relief from oral pain and infection. In China during the Han Dynasty, people would keep cloves in their mouths to freshen their breath during audiences with the emperor!

6. Cloves contain important nutrients

cloves on a spoon on table close up

While we tend to think of spices as just added flavors, many provide important nutrients. Cloves are rich in manganese, vitamin K, vitamin C, and fiber. Manganese aids bone health and metabolism, while vitamin K promotes proper blood clotting. So cloves provide great flavor and nutrients.

7. They have antifungal and antibacterial properties

Research shows cloves have potent antimicrobial effects against certain bacteria and fungi. Compounds like eugenol found in cloves may inhibit the growth and activity of microbes like E. coli, Candida albicans and Staph infections. This expands cloves’ traditional use as an antiseptic for oral health.

8. You can use cloves internally and externally

While we mainly use cloves to flavor foods, they can also be used externally for things like toothaches. And cloves can be consumed in food, drinks like chai tea, or even as a supplement to harness their internal health benefits. So they are very versatile!

9. Cloves pair well with both sweet and savory ingredients

While we often associate cloves with holiday baked goods like gingerbread or mulled cider, they feature prominently in many savory dishes too. Cloves excellently complement roasted meats, curries, rich stews, chili, barbecue sauces, and more. So explore using them beyond just your holiday treats!

10. They’re an important ingredient in many cuisines

Spices like cloves form the foundations for countless global cuisines. Cloves feature prominently in Indian and North African cooking. They’re also essential to Chinese five-spice powder. And no Caribbean jerk or peri peri sauce would be complete without the layered notes only cloves can provide.

11. Clove oil has many uses

An essential oil is steam-distilled from cloves for various commercial uses. Clove oil can be used aromatically, like in scent diffusers or personal care products. It’s also popular as a flavoring in foods and drinks. It has therapeutic applications as a topical analgesic thanks to compounds like eugenol.

So those are 11 intriguing facts you may not have known about the humble, yet powerful clove spice! They do live up to their history of being “worth their weight in gold”.

Dry Organic Clove Spice
Dry Organic Clove Spice

Key Takeaways on Cloves

  • Cloves are unopened flower buds that grow on tropical evergreen clove trees native to Indonesia.
  • They were extremely valuable in medieval times and the subject of territorial battles over trade.
  • Cloves get their name from the Latin for “nail” describing their spike shape.
  • They’ve been used medicinally and for oral health for millennia thanks to antiseptic properties.
  • Cloves contain important nutrients like manganese, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
  • They have scientifically proven antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial effects.
  • Cloves can be used both internally and externally for health benefits as well as for flavor.
  • They pair well with both sweet and savory dishes from baked goods to curries.
  • Clove essential oil has many aromatherapy, skincare, medicinal, and flavor uses.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cloves

Are cloves unhealthy if you eat a lot of them?

No, cloves are generally considered very healthy and safe even in higher quantities. In moderation, cloves may provide useful antioxidants and nutrients. However excessively high doses of cloves could potentially cause nausea, vomiting or dizziness.

Do cloves go bad or expire?

Like most dried spices, whole cloves can last 2-3 years stored properly in a cool, dark place. Ground cloves will expire faster – around 6-12 months after opening. Over time, old cloves lose potency in flavor and nutrients. Expired cloves aren’t unsafe, but won’t have an optimal taste.

What’s the difference between cloves and allspice?

Cloves and allspice have some similar flavors but come from different plants. Cloves are dried flower buds from a tree in the myrtle family. Allspice comes from berries of a tropical evergreen tree related to myrtle. Allspice has cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg notes while cloves have a stronger, more piercing flavor.

Are cloves gluten-free?

Yes, pure cloves are certified gluten-free. They are simply dried spice buds naturally free of gluten. However, cloves can become cross-contaminated with gluten during processing and harvesting. So check labels if you have a serious gluten allergy or celiac disease.

Do cloves help digestion?

Research indicates cloves may support healthy digestion in multiple ways. Their antioxidants protect the gut lining from damage that causes inflammation or “leaky gut”. And compounds like eugenol ease stomach cramps and diarrhea while reducing bloating and gas. Cloves’ high fiber content can also relieve constipation.

So in summary, don’t underestimate the petite but powerful clove! With an outsized history, versatility, nutrient profile, and health benefits, cloves truly punch above their weight. This funny-looking little spice bud packs an aromatic, flavorful, and even therapeutic punch.

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