Cloves are the dried buds of the clove tree, which belongs to the Myrtaceae family. With a height of up to ten meters, this evergreen tree is native to the Molucca Islands (a group of islands in Indonesia also known as the Spice Islands), but today it can be found across the globe. The buds, which resemble small nails, are known for their strong aroma and equally strong flavor. Though cloves are only used sporadically in these parts (we tend to associate the taste with Christmas punch and gingerbread), in India and China, they are common kitchen spices. The handpicked buds turn brown when dried and have a strong aromatic scent, a slightly sweet taste, and produce a pleasant burning sensation on the tongue. The spice has an established role in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and anyone who has ever put Syzygium aromaticum on an aching tooth will know the wonders this little bud can work. The active substance here is eugenol, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses and also has a slightly numbing, anti-inflammatory effect.
If you believe the lore, Montgomery Collins – forefather of Monkey 47 – swore by the clove’s healing powers and carried a small sack with him at all times.
Some quick and easy tricks for determining the quality and freshness of cloves: Gently pressing the stem should release a bit of oil, and in general, cloves should have an oily sheen. You can also try the so-called “swim test:” High quality cloves will sit upright in water, while cloves of lesser quality will float horizontally on the water’s surface. With its effects on various bodily processes and the health benefits of regular consumption, the clove is quite the Jack of all trades. In this spirit – Cheers!