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Clove

Cloves have a long history. They were well known and very popular in China and India centuries before the birth of Christ. Nevertheless, they only found their way to Europe during the heyday of the Roman Empire. In those days, the main trade centers of the spice trade were Alexandria and Constantinople. The further history of the clove tree, which comes from the Moluccas, is closely tied to that of the nutmeg tree.

History

Until the end of the Middle Ages clove trees were only found on the Moluccas. In the 15th century, the Portuguese started to set up some trading posts. At that time, both the Spaniards and the Portuguese claimed the Moluccas for themselves. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch bit by bit took over control of the islands.

They destroyed the clove plantations on almost every island and tried to concentrate the cultivation of cloves on the islands Ternate and Tidore in the North of the archipelago. Exportation of the trees was punished with the death penalty. The trade monopoly collapsed when the British occupied the Moluccas after the Napoleonic Wars. They introduced the clove trees to Zanzibar in 1818. The sultan cultivated the trees on the Pemba Island located in the north of Zanzibar. Since they best grow in tropical marine climate, they are only found on a few islands and coastal areas, such as Penang, Java, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Réunion, Mauritius, Zanzibar, Pemba, some West Indies and Guiana.

Cultivation

On the plantations, the clove trees are maintained at a height of 5-6 meters. Harvesting can only start 6 years after planting and reaches its peak between 20 and 25 years. Harvest can often be done twice a year. Cloves are the red flower buds, which are picked shortly before they open and then are dried until they get their typical brown color. You can tell if cloves are good and fresh by squeezing the stem with y fingernail, a fresh clove will secrete some oil. You can also say if they are fresh and of high quality if you put them in water: fresh cloves float vertically or sink to the bottom whereas those of low quality – more or less de-oiled ones –  will float horizontally on the water’s surface.

Usage

The ethereal clove oil is an important ingredient in the production of perfume and cosmetics. The little brown buds have a strong intense taste. In the kitchen, they are used to flavor marinades, sauces, gingerbread and dishes that include sausages, meat or fish – to name but a few. They are also an ingredient in curry powder. You should only eat the head of the clove – it has a harmonic and elegant aroma whereas the stem tastes quite bitter.
Whole cloves are used when preparing stocks, soups or punch and they are removed at the end of the cooking period. Powdered cloves – ground in a mortar – are used to flavor gingerbread, Christmas cookies and curries.
Cloves consist of 70-85 % of eugenol, which also occurs in cinnamon. Artificial vanilla flavor “vanillin” is made from eugenol. Eugenol has an anaesthetic effect, which is why chewing cloves is a well-known home remedy for toothache. Cloves also help against bad breath.

You can find pictures around the clove processing in the gallery.