Clove (the spice that is) conjures up images of the holidays and certainly the smell of things like mulled cider and spiced wine, but it is a truly versatile ingredient that can be used year-round.
Cloves are the dried and unopened flower buds of the clove tree and they look like little spikes. (Go figure!) The clove tree is a type of evergreen that is native to Indonesia. These trees now grow in many different countries around the world in places like Madagascar, Mexico, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. Cloves can be sold whole or ground like most spices are.
This spice has a storied past. Let’s go back to the third century BCE where Chinese emperors would have those who spoke to them chew clove to freshen their breath. I mean, can you blame them? There is also proof that shows cloves in Roman and Egyptian cultures around the first century AD.
Enough history – let’s talk harvesting! The tree itself can grow to 40 feet tall and it takes 4-6 months for the buds to mature to the right stage for harvesting. Crazy fact, these have to be picked by hand at just the right time and folks do this by scaling ladders. The buds are then traditionally left in the sun to dry for 4-5 days.
As many of us know, clove is a very pungent, warm spice. When you eat it, there is a warmth in the mouth along with some sweetness, and astringency, and a touch of bitterness. Because this spice is so powerful, it is used in moderation.
Clove is a great addition to a chai tea spice blend, pumpkin pie, mulled wine, flavoring savory rice dishes, meats, and sauces.