Like their counterpart cinnamon, you can find it and use it in any season. It also comes from a tree producing beautiful pink flowers, the secret inside the unopened buds. When the buds are forcibly removed and dried they turn brown and the tiny ½ inch cloves are produced. As a child I used to love to stick them into the ham because they resemble nails, and it was my contribution to the delicious meal. What I didn’t know then is that the oils inside the cloves that contributes to their exciting, pungent and delicious aroma not only contributes to the flavor they impart to food but to their nutritional benefits.
What are their health benefits?
The cloves oil is called eugenol, and studies have shown that it prevents toxicity from some pollutants, cancer of the digestive tract and inflammation. It’s also been widely used in this country for tooth aches because of its analgesic properties. As a child, our family’s doctor used to apply a Vaseline and cloves ointment to my chest and back, cover them with a warm damp towel then a dry towel and plastic wrap for my asthma. I loved the smell and the clearing of my lungs, and loved him for coming to me every time I was sick. So my memories of cloves (called clavos in Spanish) run deep and way back. But being a food lover, my best memories are of cloves as a spice, such a delicious aroma, such an exciting taste. If you were ever a Girls Scout, I’m sure you stuck cloves into oranges every year before Christmas and made Pomander balls. I did! I didn’t want to wash my hands afterwards because I loved the smell on my fingers of the citrus and cloves. Years later as a Brownie leader I not only had them make the Pomander balls, but led them through numerous experiments of other uses for cloves, from putting them in pretty cloth mixed with cornstarch or talcum, wrapping them in a ribbon and using them for gifts or to place in their undies drawers. But of course, being a foodie, I soon moved to food and my own experiments with spices, and that led to an endless use of cloves, many of which I still have in my repertoire.
How do I use cloves?
As a compliment to savory foods try it in stews, sauces, soups and curries. Just poke the cloves into a peeled onion and drop it in right at the beginning. The flavor is subtle and rich. Use it in rice dishes such as rice Pilaf, to vegetables such as carrots, acorn squash or corn, on broiled tomatoes, baked sweet potatoes or pickled beets, or in a spicy rub for chicken or pork. Let’s not forget a crispy, hot, buttered slice of bread topped with… WHAT? Yes, cloves instead of cinnamon for breakfast or a mid-day snack. Now, that’s real comfort food. In sweet foods there is no limit. Everyone is familiar with its traditional use in pumpkin pie, apple pie and in flavorful and aromatic cinnamon buns. But a small amount of ground cloves added to any cake, cookie or bread makes them festive and special. Why not try each of them with a “twist”? a cloves twist. You can mix ground cloves with the cinnamon, or substitute it completely and create a different specialty all your own. Ground cloves also complement nutmeg and can be used instead of, or mixed with it. I like to mix it in equal parts of ground cloves with ground nutmeg and add it to my eggnog or coconut nog. You will find the Coco-nog recipe in Flavorful Fortified Food – Recipes to Enrich Life.