What Are Cloves?
Cloves, an important spice, are aromatic flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree. A native of Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, the clove tree is currently also grown and harvested in some countries of the Indian subcontinent and Africa.
Cloves were used as early as 1721 BC as is evident from cloves found in a ceramic vessel in Syria dating back to this time. According to accounts, a Chinese leader of the Han dynasty had ordered those who addressed him to chew cloves to freshen their breath. During the Middle Ages, cloves were an important trade item in the flourishing Indian Ocean trade. Ibn Batuta also mentions the clove trade in his accounts.
Botany Of Cloves
The clove tree is an evergreen tree that grows about 8 to 12 meters tall and has large leaves and sanguine flowers. The flower buds gradually change color from a pale hue to green to bright red at the time of harvest. The buds (which is the harvested clove) have a long calyx which ends in four sepals that are spread out, and four petals that are unopened forming a tiny ball at the center. The cloves are harvested when 1.5 to 2.0 cm long.
Production Of Cloves
Today, Indonesia, the place of origin of the clove tree, still leads the world in clove production. In 2013, Indonesia produced 109,600 tons of clove. Several African countries also produce cloves and rank high in clove production. The tropical climate of these countries favor clove production. Madagascar ranks second in the production of this spice, producing 10,986 tons of clove in 2013. Tanzania, Comoros, and Kenya are the other leading clove producers in Africa. India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in South Asia are also important clove producers.
Uses Of Cloves
Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines use cloves to a prepare a great variety of delectable dishes. Cloves are used to flavor curries, marinades, and meat. Cloves are also used to give aromatic qualities and flavor to hot beverages like tea or coffee. Cloves are also popularly used in Mexican and Peruvian cuisine.
Clove has also several non-culinary uses. It is used in kretek, a type of Indonesian cigarette. The bioactive chemicals in clove are utilized to prepare ant repellents. Cloves also find a significant place in traditional medicine in India and China. Cloves are said to help relieve toothaches and are associated with improved digestive health. Cloves are used as a carminative, and as an anodyne. The spice is also believed to be naturally anthelmintic.