Food glossary

A variety of spices


Named after the French word clou, which means nail (an accurate description of the appearance of these small woody buds), cloves are unopened flower buds of a small evergreen tree, Syzygium aromaticum, belonging to the myrtle family. The tree grew exclusively in the Moluccas in Indonesia until the 18th century, when they were transported to Mauritius and then on to Zanzibar.

They have a sweet and strong aromatic flavour. Cloves are available whole or ground but can have an overpowering flavour so are often combined with other spices - Chinese five spice powder, garam masala and mixed spice all contain cloves.

Uses: Cloves are used in sweet dishes such as fruit cakes and biscuits and mulled wine, they are especially popular in apple-based recipes. Savoury dishes can also be flavoured with cloves, these include rice and onion-based dishes and Chinese and Indonesian recipes. They are also an important flavouring in traditional bread sauce, an accompaniment to roast chicken and turkey. Cloves are often used to stud the fat of a boiled ham for a decorative finishing touch.

To store: Keep whole cloves in an airtight container, in a dark cool, place. If a recipe calls for ground cloves, for the best flavour, grind whole cloves.