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What Are Cloves?

A clove is a type of spice is made from the dried flower buds of Szyygiaum aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata. It is used to add flavor to food. It is found in the Philippines and Moluccas (once called “the Spice islands”) but is now grown and harvested in othe tropical countries like Zanzibar, Sumatra, Jamaica, West Indies, and Brazil.

The first written record of cloves can be found in Chinese texts dating back to the third century BCE, though there are indications that tit was also used by the Ancient Romans. When the Dutch gained control of the Spice Islands in the 18th century, they were able to smuggle back seedlings of clove and nutmeg and bring them back to another colonial island, Mauritius. The plants did not thrive there, but were able to survive. Eventually the “descendants” of the original trees were brought to Zanzibar, which (along with Indonesia and Madagascar) became one of the world’s biggest exporters of cloves.

Clove spice is tedious to make; as many as 7,000 buds are needed to make just a single pound. However, the flavor is worth it. It is known for being sweet with a touch of hotness or spice to it. It is used in making baked goods (and is a key component in many holiday goodies such as fruitcake) as well as pickled dishes. Clove oil is used in making vanilla, too, and is also incorporated in perfumes.

Indonesia is also known for making clove cigarettes called kretek which emit a sweetish smelling smoke. These cigarettes are not as dangerous as traditional tobacco.

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