What is clove spice used for?

Clove spice is derived from the flower buds of the clove tree, an evergreen that is native to Indonesia. Cloves have a strong, warm, sweet flavor and are used in many savory and sweet dishes around the world.

What gives cloves their distinctive flavor?

The unique flavor and aroma of cloves comes from eugenol, the essential oil found in clove buds. Eugenol has anesthetic and antiseptic properties and comprises 72-90% of the essential oil extracted from cloves.

How are cloves used in cooking?

Cloves are used in many savory dishes across a variety of international cuisines. Here are some of the most common uses of cloves in cooking:

  • Spice rubs and marinades for meat, especially ham, pork and lamb
  • Flavoring for broths, soups, stews and chili
  • An ingredient in spice mixes like garam masala, Chinese five spice and ras el hanout
  • An aromatic addition to rice dishes
  • Flavoring for vegetables like carrots, cauliflower and squash

Cloves pair well with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger, and help add warmth and complexity to savory dishes.

How are ground cloves different than whole cloves?

Whole cloves will impart a more intense, concentrated flavor, while ground cloves quickly and evenly distribute the flavor. Here’s a quick overview of how they compare:

Whole Cloves Ground Cloves
More potent, concentrated flavor More evenly distributed flavor
Can be removed after infusing flavor Flavor cannot be removed once incorporated
Provide textural contrast No textural contrast

Many recipes will call for cloves to be used whole and then removed after simmering in liquids or sautéing in oil. Ground cloves are more commonly used in baked goods.

What baked goods use ground cloves?

Ground cloves are commonly used to flavor the following baked goods:

  • Gingerbread
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Fruitcake
  • Speculoos (spiced shortcrust cookies)
  • Lebkuchen (German gingerbread cookies)
  • Some chocolate cake and cookie recipes

Ground cloves complement baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. Cloves have a strong flavor, so are generally used sparingly in baked goods.

What drinks use cloves as an ingredient?

Here are some popular drinks featuring cloves:

  • Mulled wine: Cloves infuse rich flavor into mulled wines along with oranges and cinnamon.
  • Chai tea: Cloves are traditionally used in masala chai along with other spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper.
  • Clove studded fruit: Studding oranges and other fruits with whole cloves is popular in the fall and winter. The cloves infuse the fruit with flavor as it simmers.
  • Pomanders: Pomanders are made by studding oranges or other fruit with cloves. They are used for scenting and decorating homes.

What savory dishes use whole cloves?

Here are some examples of savory dishes that use whole cloves:

  • Ham: Cloves studded into the surface of baked ham gives delicious flavor and aroma.
  • Pot roast: Many pot roast recipes will include cloves and other spices in the braising liquid.
  • Rice pilaf: Cloves can be sautéed in oil before cooking rice to give the dish a warm, aromatic flavor.
  • Pasta sauce: Cloves add depth of flavor to long-simmered meat sauces and tomato sauces.
  • Soups and stews: Cloves enhance hearty fall and winter soups and stews.

For savory dishes, whole cloves are often simmered in liquid or oil to extract their flavor. The cloves can then be discarded before serving the dish.

What spices pair well with cloves?

Here are some of the most complementary spice pairings with cloves:

  • Cinnamon: This classic pairing brings out the sweetness and warmth in both spices.
  • Nutmeg: Nutmeg and clove are often used together in baked goods. Nutmeg has a slightly sweeter, more floral aroma.
  • Ginger: Ginger’s lemony, slightly spicy heat contrasts nicely with cloves.
  • Allspice: Named for its flavor echoes of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, allspice enhances the clove flavor.
  • Cardamom: This citrusy, aromatic spice complements cloves but doesn’t overpower their flavor.

Start with small amounts of cloves when pairing with other spices, as the flavor can easily dominate. For recipes using several warm spices, try balancing them in equal proportions.

What savory dishes and foods pair well with cloves?

Here are some of the best savory pairings for clove spice:

  • Rich meats: Cloves pair exceptionally well with fatty, rich meats like ham, lamb, and duck.
  • Root vegetables: The earthy sweetness of carrots, parsnips, and squash complement clove’s warmth.
  • Cabbage: Cloves add interest to braised cabbage and sauerkraut.
  • Legumes: Cloves enhance the flavor of lentil and bean dishes.
  • Rice: Cloves infuse flavor and aroma into rice pilafs and biryani rice dishes.

Cloves also pair well with dairy like cream, butter, and cheese. Try using cloves to flavor creamy potato gratins or cheese-based dips and spreads.

What sweet dishes and foods pair well with cloves?

Here are some complementary sweet pairings for clove spice:

  • Fruit: Cloves enhance cooked, dried, and fresh fruits like apples, pears, cranberries, and oranges.
  • Chocolate: Cloves accent dark, bittersweet chocolate baked goods and confections.
  • Nuts: Cloves complement nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts.
  • Pumpkin: Cloves are essential for balancing the sweetness of pumpkin pie and bread.
  • Winter squash: Cloves season squash purees and baked squash wedges.

Cloves have a strong flavor that stands up well to other assertive sweet ingredients. They help cut through sugariness and add warmth to desserts.

What are some medicinal and health uses for cloves?

Throughout history, cloves have been valued for their medicinal properties. Here are some of the traditional medicinal uses of cloves:

  • Dental pain: Since ancient times, people have chewed on cloves to alleviate dental pain and irritation thanks to the compound eugenol.
  • Nausea: Cloves have historically been used to settle upset stomachs. The aroma may help relieve nausea.
  • Respiratory issues: Cloves have been used to treat respiratory problems like bronchitis, asthma, and tuberculosis.
  • Digestive aid: Cloves may stimulate digestion and have been used to treat flatulence, gastric ulcers, diarrhea and stomach parasites.

Today, cloves are still sometimes recommended for dental pain. Recent research has also investigated cloves for their antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties.

How are cloves used for dental health?

The compound eugenol makes cloves a natural anesthetic and antiseptic for dental pain and infection. Ways cloves have been used for dental health include:

  • Chewing on a whole clove to temporarily alleviate toothache pain
  • Clove oil applied topically to soothe toothache pain
  • Clove oil or ground cloves used in some temporary dental fillings
  • Ground cloves as an ingredient in some toothpaste and mouthwash products

Research has also indicated cloves may have potential for preventing cavities with their antimicrobial effects. However, more studies are needed.

What essential oils contain clove spice?

Clove essential oil, also sometimes called clove bud oil, is extracted from the flower buds of cloves. Properties of clove essential oil include:

  • Warm, sweet, spicy aroma
  • Main chemical constituent is eugenol (60-90%)
  • Antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties
  • Topical analgesic and anesthetic effects
  • Used for dental pain, headaches, arthritis, and skin issues

Clove essential oil blends well with cinnamon, orange, peppermint, lemon, rosemary, and lavender oils. It is very strong and typically diluted before use.

How do you make clove oil at home?

You can extract clove essential oil at home using cloves and a carrier oil like olive oil. Here is one simple method:

  1. Fill a small jar halfway with whole cloves.
  2. Cover the cloves fully with your carrier oil of choice.
  3. Place jar in a sunny window and allow the cloves to infuse for 1-2 weeks, shaking the jar every few days.
  4. Drain oil through a cheesecloth and discard cloves.
  5. Store clove oil in a sealed container away from light. It will last several months.

You can test and adjust the clove flavor as needed by adding more cloves. Other carrier oils like coconut or jojoba oil also work well. Essential oils like lavender or mint can be added for extra aroma.

Are there any side effects or risks from using cloves or clove oil?

Cloves and clove essential oil are considered safe when used appropriately and in moderation, but side effects can include:

  • Allergic reactions in some individuals
  • Mouth or digestive irritation when consuming high amounts
  • Skin irritation, rashes, or burns from undiluted clove oil
  • Negative interactions with blood thinners

Pregnant women should avoid using clove oil. Clove supplements should not be given to children due to risks of liver damage and seizures.

It’s also important to dilute clove oil and test for skin sensitivity before widespread use. Speak to a doctor before using cloves or clove oil medicinally.


Clove spice is derived from the dried flower buds of clove trees native to Indonesia. Cloves have a distinctive sweet, spicy, penetrating flavor that makes them indispensable in cuisine worldwide. They are also valued for their use in traditional medicine and dental care.

The essential oil eugenol gives cloves their numbing, antiseptic properties. Cloves season both savory dishes and sweet baked goods. They pair exceptionally well with cinnamon, chocolate, pumpkin, citrus fruits, and dried fruits.

While cloves can be irritating in high amounts and clove oil should be used cautiously, cloves offer many potential health benefits. Throughout history, they have been prized for relieving dental pain, respiratory ailments, nausea, and poor digestion.

Next time you enjoy a warm cup of mulled cider or a slice of pumpkin pie, you can thank the unique sweet kick of clove spice!

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