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Black pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves. Wilmsen, 1821.

Cloves are a classic older world spice. Cloves are reddish-brown to brown in colour and are 10 - 15 mm in length (⅓ - ½ inches). Cloves are long and nail shaped, tapered at one end and with a flatter head at the other end; this end should contain a friable little ball held between the fingers, hence its name in German being "nelke".

The flavour of cloves is intensely pungent with medicinal, warming, sweet and numbing sensations that linger. Cloves' warm aroma is similarly strong, being pungent, aromatic, camphorous and peppery. Some people really do not like the taste of cloves, so be careful with overusing them.

Cloves work well with pork and stuck into hams, or in the boiling water for hams. In India, cloves are used in savoury dishes as well as sweet ones and are key to garam masala and China 5 spice. Similarly, cloves are good in pâtés or studded in onions when making a bread sauce.

However, cloves are best with sweet foods - in fruits, marinades, spiced biscuits, fruitcakes and mulled wine, often in combination with cinnamon. Oranges are a particularly good with cloves, so stud the skin and leave the flavours to infuse through before slicing the oranges into a fruit salad.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.