by Maria Konecsny
The humble clove is more than worthy of its spot on the spice rack, and it's not just for what they contribute to food. Yes, you can stud them into your Christmas ham and they impart a beautiful and distinct sharp sweetness, but what else?
Native to Indonesia, cloves are the aromatic flower of the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum) and date back to at least 1700 BC when archaeologists found evidence of cloves in vessels in Syria. Since then, cloves have been highly prized throughout history and at one point in the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain, cloves were literally worth their weight in gold due to the high price of importing them.
Luckily for us, they're now more accessible to Australian households.
And as well as livening up dishes, cloves play an important role in natural immunity. The active ingredient in cloves is an oil called eugenol. This is a mild anaesthetic, particularly good for the gums, teeth and mouth tissue. Not surprisingly, cloves were - and still are - used in dentistry and as a natural antiseptic and breath freshener in ancient times. The mouth region is one of the first lines of defence in our immune system so brewing up half a dozen whole cloves in hot water and leaving them to steep overnight yields a great natural mouthwash, which can also be gargled throughout the day to help keep a sore throat at bay. In my house, we use it in place of Betadine when it comes to sore throats; gargle throughout the day, only don't spit out the liquid - the clove water will help you fight infection in the rest of your system too.
If you still need convincing as to why the humble clove deserves a place on your shelf, how about this? When the Victoria returned alone to Spain in 1522, almost three full years after Magellan set out with her and four other ships, she carried neither the captain nor most of his men. Nevertheless, her hold was filled with 381 bags of Moluccan clove, enough spice to adequately cover the cost of the first circumnavigation of the globe. The first circumnavigation of the world was paid for in a cargo load of whole clove.
Wow. Every time I reach for my jar of cloves now, I have great respect and awe for the journey they make to sit on my shelf and the many journeys they made in the past.
Cloves are pungent with warming, aromatic, peppery and camphorous characteristics. They match well with stewed fruits, pickles, Christmas cookery and apples. At Gewürzhaus, we use them in our Chinese Five Spice, Ras el Hanout and Glühwein Gewürz (mulled wine spice mix), as well as many others.
Use sparingly, especially when using ground cloves, and if you are doubling a recipe, don't double the clove! Add only a fraction more at most.