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Health Benefits of Cloves

Like other spices, cloves are available throughout the year. They are renowned for providing their uniquely warm, sweet and aromatic taste to ginger bread and pumpkin pie, but they can also make a wonderful addition to split pea and bean soups, baked beans and chili.


Cloves are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. The buds are picked by hand when they are pink and dried until they turn brown in color. Cloves are about 1/2-inch long and 1/4-inch in diameter and with their tapered stem, they resemble tiny nails. In fact, their English name is actually derived from the Latin word clavus, which means nail. Although cloves have a very hard exterior, their flesh features an oily compound that is essential to their nutritional and flavor profile.


History

Cloves are native to the Moluccas, formerly known as the Spice Islands of Indonesia. They have been consumed in Asia for more than 2,000 years. Owing to their sweet and fragrant taste, Chinese courtiers dating back to 200 BC would keep them in their mouths in order to freshen their breath when addressing the emperor so as to not offend him. Arab traders brought cloves to Europe around the 4th century, although they did not come into widespread use until the Middle Ages when they became prized for their pungent flavor that served to mask the taste of poorly preserved foods. While for a long time, they were cultivated almost exclusively in Indonesia, today the leading clove-producing region is Zanzibar in Eastern Africa. In addition to these two regions, cloves are also grown commercially in the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, India, Pemba and Brazil.


How to Select and Store

Whenever possible, buy whole cloves instead of clove powder since the latter loses its flavor more quickly. When squeezed with a fingernail, good quality cloves will release some of their oil. Alternatively, you can place a clove in a cup of water. Those of good quality will float vertically while those that are stale will either sink or float horizontally.


Even through dried herbs and spices are widely available in supermarkets, explore the local spice stores or ethnic markets in your area. Oftentimes, these stores feature an expansive selection of dried herbs and spices that are of superior quality and freshness compared to those offered in regular markets. Just like with other dried spices, try to select organically grown cloves since this will give you more assurance that the herb has not been irradiated.


Cloves should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Ground cloves will keep for about six months, while whole cloves will stay fresh for about one year stored this way. Alternatively, you can extend their shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator.


Tips for Preparing and Cooking

Since cloves have a very intense flavor, especially those that have been ground, care should be taken when deciding how much to use in a recipe so as to not overpower the flavors of the other ingredients.

The easiest way to grind whole cloves into a powder is to use a coffee grinder.

How to Enjoy

  • Pierce an onion with whole cloves and add to soups, broths or poaching liquids.

  • Adding ground cloves and curry powder to healthy sautéed onions, garlic and tofu will give this dish an Indian-inspired zest.

  • Impart a warming note to apple cider by adding ground cloves and cinnamon.

  • Spice up fruit compote by adding ground cloves.

  • Add clove powder, walnuts and raisins to your favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe.

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.


Some Health Benefits of Cloves:

Chemo-Preventive Properties: Cloves are of interest to the medical community due to their chemo-preventive or anti-carcinogenic properties. Tests have showed that cloves are helpful in controlling lung cancer in its early stages.


Liver Protection: Cloves contain high amounts of antioxidants, which are ideal for protecting the organs from the effects of free radicals, especially the liver. Metabolism, in the long run, increases free radical production and lipid profile, while decreasing the antioxidants in the liver. Clove extracts are helpful in counteracting those effects with its hepatoprotective properties.


Better Digestion: Cloves improve digestion by stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes. Cloves are also good for reducing flatulence, gastric irritability, dyspepsia and nausea. Cloves can be roasted, powdered, and taken with honey for relief in digestive disorders.


Antibacterial Properties: Cloves have been tested for their antibacterial properties against a number of human pathogens. The extracts of cloves were potent enough to kill those pathogens. Clove extracts are also effective against the specific bacteria that spreads cholera.


Diabetes Control: Cloves have been used in many traditional remedies for a number of diseases. One such disease is diabetes. In patients suffering from diabetes, the amount of insulin produced by the body is not sufficient or insulin is not produced at all. Studies have revealed that extracts from cloves imitate insulin in certain ways and help in controlling blood sugar levels.


Bone Preservation: The hydro-alcoholic extracts of cloves include phenolic compounds such as eugenol and its derivatives, such as flavones, isoflavones and flavonoids. These extracts have been particularly helpful in preserving bone density and the mineral content of bone, as well as increasing tensile strength of bones in cases of osteoporosis.


Anti-Mutagenic Properties: Mutagens are those chemicals that change the genetic makeup of the DNA by causing mutations. Biochemical compounds found in cloves, like phenylpropanoids, possess anti-mutagenic properties. These were administered on cells treated with mutagens and they were able to control the mutagenic effects to a significant rate.


Boosts the Immune System: Ayurveda describes certain plants to be effective in developing and protecting the immune system. One such plant is clove. The dried flower bud of clove contains compounds that help in improving the immune system by increasing the white blood cell count, thereby improving delayed type hypersensitivity.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Cloves possess anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties. Studies on clove extracts being administered in lab rats suggest that the presence of eugenol reduced the inflammation caused by edema. It was also confirmed that eugenol has the ability to reduce pain by stimulating pain receptors.


Cure for Oral Diseases: Cloves can be taken for gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. Clove bud extracts significantly controlled the growth of oral pathogens, which are responsible for various oral diseases. Cloves can also be used for toothaches due to their pain-killing properties.


Aphrodisiac Properties: Spices such as clove and nutmeg have been said to possess aphrodisiac properties, according to Unani medicine. Experiments on clove and nutmeg extracts were tested against standard drugs administered for that reason and both clove and nutmeg showed positive results.


Cure for Headaches: Headaches can be reduced by using cloves. Make a paste of a few cloves and mix it with a dash of rock salt. Add this to a glass of milk. This mixture reduces headaches quickly and effectively.


Side Effects of Using Clove

Clove Oil: Clove oils must not be used directly; instead they must be diluted either in olive oil or in distilled water. Clove extract oil is generally considered to be safe, but certain studies have revealed that they possess cytotoxic properties. There are two major components present in clove extract oil, eugenol and B-caryophyllene. These compounds were particularly effective against fibroblasts and endothelial cells.


References

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  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.

  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York. 1996.

  • Friedman M, Henika PR, Mandrell RE. Bactericidal activities of plant essential oils and some of their isolated constituents against Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica. J Food Prot 2002 Oct;65(10):1545-60. 2002.

  • Ghelardini C, Galeotti N, Di Cesare Mannelli L, et al. Local anaesthetic activity of beta-caryophyllene. Farmaco 2001 May-2001 Jul 31;56(5-7):387-9. 2001. PMID:12570.

  • Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications, New York. 1971.

  • Krishnaswamy K, Raghuramulu N. Bioactive phytochemicals with emphasis on dietary practices. Indian J Med Res 1998 Nov;108:167-81. 1998. PMID:12540.

  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. 1988. PMID:15220.

  • Alex Steblowsky


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