Cloves are an essential part of Chinese cooking. They are used in everything from chili oil to braised meat dishes and hot pot. Read on to to understand more about this amazing "nail head" spice.
What Are Cloves?
Cloves are the dried unopened flower buds from the evergreen tree Syzgium aromaticum. They are native to Indonesia but are used globally. According to the McCormick Spice Institute, clove trees begin to flower after 6 years and can keep bearing fruit for up to 80 years. Cloves are usually .5 to .75 inches (1.2 to 1.9 centimeters) long. Cloves contain a large amount of volatile oil and have a strong aroma. They complement a variety of foods, including sauces, meat, soup, rice, etc.
History of Cloves in China
Cloves were one of the earliest (after cinnamon) spices bought and sold in the spice trade. In fact wars were fought to control the production of this prized spice.
Cloves were first recorded in Chinese literature around 3rd century BC. Interestingly, during the Han Dynasty, those who wanted to speak to Han Dynasty officials were required to first chew on cloves to freshen their breath – we tried it for this article and it really works! Although, they are bitter when chewed whole, so beware.
Cloves are reddish-brown and look like a nail. The name “clove” comes from the Latin word “clavus,” which means nail.
Cloves hold a strong flavor with a hint of sweetness, and they have a complex aromatic fragrance. When eaten whole they are quite bitter, but infused into dishes they add a pleasantly fragrant quality and bit of sweetness.
Use in Chinese Cooking
Cloves play an important role in enhancing the taste and fragrance of dishes, and they are used to remove oiliness from meat. Cloves are one of the essential ingredients in Chinese Five-Spice Powder. They are used in chili oil, tea eggs, Sichuan hot pot, and in in braised meat dishes.
Use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
In traditional Chinese medicine cloves belong to the category of herbs that warm the interior and expel cold. They are thought to warm the kidneys and increase Yang. Cloves have been used in Chinese medicine dating back to at least the 3rd century BC.
Cloves are associated with the stomach, spleen, and kidney meridians (i.e., channels that form a network in the body through which qi flows). Some of the conditions cloves are used to treat include, hiccups, poor appetite, nausea, and diarrhea. Cloves oil is said to have strong antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Most Asian and Western markets sell cloves. If for some reasons you cannot find them in your local market, you can find them on Amazon.
Like other dry spices, store cloves in a cool dry place in an airtight container. Use by the expiration date on the package.