Friday, 9 January 2009
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, syn. Eugenia aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata) are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. The word ‘clove’ is from the Latin word for ‘nail’ – clavus. The clove is native to the North Moluccas, the Spice Islands of Indonesia. The Chinese wrote of cloves as early as 400 BC and there is a record from 200 BC of courtiers keeping cloves in their mouths to avoid offending the emperor while addressing him. Arab traders delivered cloves to the Romans.
Cloves are harvested primarily in Indonesia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Indonesia produces almost 80% of the world's clove, followed by Madagascar and Tanzania. It is called laung, lavang or lavungamin in India and bunga cengkih in Malaysia.
Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, they are used sparingly. The spice is used throughout Europe and Asia and is smoked in a type of cigarettes locally known as kretek in Indonesia. The largest brand of kreteks sold outside of Indonesia is Djarum Black. Cloves are also an important incense material in Chinese and Japanese culture.
Cloves have historically been used in Indian cuisine (both North Indian and South Indian) as well as Mexican cuisine (best known as "clavos de olor"), where it is often paired together with cumin and cinnamon. In north Indian cuisine, it is used regularly in sauces or side dishes, mostly ground up along with other spices. They are also a key ingredient in tea along with green cardamoms. In south Indian cuisine, it is used extensively in biryani (similar to the pilaf, but with the addition of local spice taste) and is normally added whole to enhance the presentation and flavor of the rice.
Cloves can easily overpower a dish, particularly when ground, so only a little needs to be used. Whole cloves are often used to “stud” hams and pork, pushing the tapered end into the meat like a nail. A studded onion is frequently used to impart an elusive character to courts-bouillons, stocks and soups. Cloves are often used to enhance the flavour of game, especially venison, wild boar and hare. They are used in a number of spice mixtures including ras el hanout, curry powders, mulling spices and pickling spices. Cloves also figure in the flavour of Worcestershire sauce. They enjoy much popularity in North Africa and the Middle East where they are generally used for meat dishes, though rice is often aromatized with a few cloves.
Cloves are best bought whole. As a powder its flavour quickly deteriorates. Being extremely hard, it is difficult to grind cloves with a mortar and pestle so an electric spice or coffee grinder is recommended. Store in an airtight container out of direct light.
MEDICINAL QUALITIES OF CLOVES
Folklore says that sucking on two whole Cloves without chewing or swallowing them helps to curb the desire for alcohol. Traditional Chinese physicians have long used cloves to treat indigestion, diarrhea, hernia, and ringworm, as well as athlete's foot and other fungal infections. India's traditional Ayurvedic healers have used Cloves since ancient times to treat respiratory and digestive ailments. The medieval German herbalists used cloves as part of anti-gout mixture. Early American Eclectic physicians used cloves to treat digestive complaints, and they added it to bitter herbal medicines to make them more palatable. They were also the first to extract clove oil from the herbal buds, which they used on the gums to relieve toothache.
A few drops of the oil in water will stop vomiting, and an infusion will relieve nausea. Essential oil of clove is effective against strep, staph and pneumomocci bacterias. Contemporary herbalists recommend cloves for digestive complaints and its oil for toothache. Cloves are said to have a positive effect on stomach ulcers, vomiting, flatulence, and to stimulate the digestive system. It has powerful local antiseptic and mild anesthetic actions.
Japanese researchers have discovered that like many spices, clove contains antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent the cell damage that scientists believe eventually causes cancer. On the other hand, in laboratory tests, the chemical eugenol, has been found to be a weak tumour promoter, making clove one of many healing herbs with both pro- and anti-cancer effects. At this point, scientists aren't sure which way the balance tilts. Until they are, anyone with a history of cancer should not use medicinal amounts of clove. For otherwise healthy non-pregnant, non-nursing adults, powdered clove is considered non-toxic.
Additionally, dentists have used clove oil as an oral anesthetic. They also used it to disinfect root canals. Clove oil still is an active ingredient in several mouthwash products and a number of over-the-counter toothache pain-relief preparations. Cloves kill intestinal parasites and exhibits broad anti-microbial properties against fungi and bacteria, thus supporting its traditional use as a treatment for diarrhea, intestinal worms, and other digestive ailments. Like many culinary spices, Cloves helps relax the smooth muscle lining of the digestive tract. And finally, cloves is said to be an aphrodisiac!