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Botanical name: Caryophyllus aromaticus



Cloves are native to the Indonesian group of islands called the Moluccas. The tree was cultivated there on the islands Ambon and Seram. The first accounts of the use of cloves are over 3000 years old. In the Mediterranean area they became known in the 7th century through trade with the Arabs.

The tree thrives best in tropical climates near the ocean. The chief growing countries are Indonesia, Tanzania, Malaysia, Madagascar and Brazil.



Cloves are sold all year round, whole or ground.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

Botanically, the clove tree belongs to the family Myrtaceae. The evergreen tree can attain a height of 20 m and yields good harvests even at the age of 100 years. To simplify the harvest, the densely leafed trees are cut back to a height of 5-6 m.


The tree crown grows in the shape of a pyramid and has dark-green, leathery leaves that are about 10 cm long, lanceolate and tapered. Umbel-shaped flower buds form on the tips of the branches. As soon as the petals of the closed buds have turned reddish, they are picked and dried. The tree can normally be harvested twice a year.


Cloves smell intensively spicy-sweet, slightly peppery. The flavour is spicy-fruity, slightly bitter, peppery, but not hot. They season strongly especially when they are ground.


The buds change colour as they dry and take on the typical colour of cloves. They are 1-2 cm long and consist of a dark-brown, stem-like calyx and a spherical flower head. The four-sided calyx envelops the red-brown flower head.



At 15-17%, cloves have a very high content of essential oil; the highest values are 21%. A significant component of the oil is eugenol. Cloves also contain flavonoids, phenol carbonic acids and tannins.


Harmful substances

In very high doses, eugenol can cause liver damage. When used as a spice, however, there is no danger to health.


In the USA eugenol is approved as a food additive.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

High-quality cloves have a dark stem with a lighter bud. When the calyx is pressed, essential oils are released. They float vertically in water or sink, while the oil from lesser quality cloves floats horizontally on the surface of the water.


Well-sorted cloves should be clean and intact and contain no impurities such as blossom or fruit peduncles. The powder should be dark-brown; however, it loses its aroma quickly.


Cloves should be kept dry and protected from light. In airtight containers whole cloves will remain aromatic for about 2 years.


Presumed effect on health

Cloves are thought to stimulate appetite and digestion owing to their aromatic flavour.

The essential oil of the clove is used for flatulence, abdominal fullness and nausea. It is presumed to stimulate the flow of bile, and it counteracts the development of stomach ulcers or helps them to heal.


Clove oil is mildly astringent and has an antibacterial effect. It is used diluted as a mouthwash for inflammation in the mouth. To fight halitosis, the cloves may be chewed. In addition, clove oil is supposed to alleviate migraine, and it is used for muscle pain and rheumatism.


Ointments containing the essential oil are used for insect bites.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Cloves can be used whole or ground. They are suitable for seasoning marinades, broths, soups and fish stock. For this purpose, 1-2 bay leaves are stuck to an onion with several cloves. Meat dishes such as roasts, ragouts and ham also taste good with cloves.


Cloves go well with carp, eel and pickled herring, pickles and cabbage dishes, particularly sauerkraut and red cabbage. In the Netherlands, cheese is enhanced with cloves.


Desserts and baked goods are also flavoured with the buds. Cloves taste good with cakes and compote, especially pear, apple and plum, and with fruit juices, oranges, damson cheese or plum jam, syrup and chocolate. They are popular in Germany in Christmas cookies and baked goods. Whole cloves are used to spice warm alcoholic drinks such as punch and mulled wine.


In the food and luxury food industry ground cloves are used to make sausage, baked goods and alcoholic drinks. Clove oil serves to flavour liqueurs, especially bitters. Eugenol can be used to produce vanillin.


Seasoning tip

Cloves should be measured carefully as their flavour is very intensive. Whole cloves are removed from food before it is served, or are cooked with it for only a short time.


They go well with garlic, parsley, thyme and bay leaves. In sweet dishes they can be combined with anise, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon. In the Near East and North Africa they are used frequently together with cardamom and cinnamon for rice and meat dishes.



In Indonesia the tobacco industry uses cloves or clove oil to flavour "kretek cigarettes". The oil is also an important product for the perfume and cosmetic industry.





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