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Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum [L.] Merr at Perry)

Plant family

Myrtaceae (myrtle family)

Botanical synonyms

Eugenia caryophyllata, Eugenia aromaticum, Caryophyllus aromaticus


The clove tree is endemic in the North Moluccas (Indonesia) and was of old cultivated on the islands of Ternate, Tidore, Bacan and the West coast of Halmahera . The Dutch extended cultivation to several other islands in the Moluccas, but only after the end of the Dutch monopoly (18 th century), clove trees were introduced to other countries.
The most important production area today is the island of Pemba near Zanzibar in Tanzania. The whole island of Pemba is covered with clove gardens, and it is reported that the island can be smelled on any ship approaching it.

Cloves are also grown on other East African islands, most notably, Madagascar. In Indonesia, clove production has recovered from poor decades after World War II, such that the country was forced to import cloves to satisfy the huge domestic market. Since the 1980s, Indonesia is again producing on a large scale, although little of the Indonesian crop is exported.

Used plant part

Dried flower buds. Essential oil is also produced from the leaves (the leaves are certainly aromatic enough to make them potentially interesting). The ripe fruits (mother of clove) have only local use.

Sensoric quality

Cloves are strongly aromatic and very intensive fragrance; fiery and burning taste.

They have deep brown colour, a powerfully fragrant odour which is warm, pungent, strongly sweet and slightly astringent and a taste too hot and acrid to be pleasant.

Main constituents

The content of essential oil in cloves of good quality may exceed 15%. The oil itself is dominated by eugenol (70 to 85%), eugenol acetate (15%) and ß-caryophyllene (5 to 12%), which together make up 99% of the oil.

Cloves contain about 2% of the triterpene oleanolic acid.



Cloves are an ancient spice and, because of their exceptional aromatic strength, have always been held in high esteem by cooks in Europe, Northern Africa and the greater part of Asia .

The first recorded use of cloves is by the Chinese in the 1st century B.C. In China, cloves were not only used for cooking but also for deodorization. Anyone having an audience with the emperor had to chew cloves to prevent any undesired smell. Eugenol is still used to flavour the tooth paste.

Arab traders brought cloves to Europe in the time of the Romans. At that time cloves were still very expensive.

Nowadays in Europe they are much used for special types of sweets or sweet breads, but especially for stewed fruits. Plain rice is often flavoured by one or two cloves. In France, cloves often go into long-simmered meat stews or hearty meat broths. In England, they are most popular in pickles.

Indonesians are the main consumers of cloves and use up nearly 50% of the world's production. But, not for cooking but for smoking. Cigarettes flavoured with cloves kretek) are extremely popular and nearly every (male) Indonesian enjoys them. Their sweet, incense-like aroma pervades Indonesian restaurants, buses, markets and offices.

In China, Sri Lanka, Northern India, Middle East, many Arab countries and Northern Africa, cloves are preferred for meat dishes. Frequently, rice is aromatized with a few cloves. In Ethiopia, coffee is often roasted together with some cloves in the so-called “coffee ceremony”.

Cloves are a versatile spice that can be used in preparation of liqueurs, drinks and in culinary operations. It is included in many spice mixtures: Chinese five-spice powder, Indian c urry powder and garam masala, Arabic baharat, Moroccan ras el han out, Tunisian gâlat dagga, Ethiopian berbere, Mexican mole sauces, French quatre épices and many others.

The taste of the famous Worcestershire sauce is markedly dominated by clove aroma. The sauce is composed of several spices (besides cloves, garlic, tamarind, paprika or chiles are most frequently found), fish extract, soy sauce, syrup, vinegar (or lemon juice) and salt.

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