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Spice History: Cloves

So far we have had a spice that is bark (cinnamon), a spice that is a root (ginger) and a spice that is a nut or seed (nutmeg). Now the spice known as cloves is a dried flower bud! Cloves come from an evergreen tree and the clove flowers are bright red in color. It can take up to five years for a clove tree to start yielding the spicy flower buds. Cloves are often hand-picked and dried in the sun. Cloves are also a tropical tree and favor the warm climates of Southeast Asia and the islands. 

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Cloves, like many of the other spices, started its history in Asia, specifically Indonesia. It traveled on the spice trade routes like many of the other spices. Cloves were often chewed by ancient people to freshen the breath. Cloves were very popular in the Middle Ages for preserving, flavoring and medicine. Did you know that the burnt end of a clove was often used as a type of early eyeliner or brow pencil? Oranges pierced with cloves known as pomaders were often carried by wealthy medieval people. As trade became more widespread, the Dutch cornered the market on cloves. That did not last long as exploration yielded more islands that could grow cloves.

The health benefits of cloves and clove oil are numerous. Cloves are known to be antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic. One of the reasons they were used in preserving so often 🙂 Clove oil is very high in antioxidants. Clove oil has a numbing effect when applied topically especially in the mouth. It was often used in dentistry before oral numbing agents were available. Cloves have also been used to help with keeping blood sugar at a normal level, boosting the immune system and helping with digestion.

Cloves can be found in so many types of dishes from gingerbread to barbecue to muffins. When seasoning dishes, sweet or savory, with clove, it is a good reminder that a little goes a long way! Cloves can easily overpower a dish so all you taste is that spice! But even just a little sprinkle adds a perfect touch and depth of flavor.

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