Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, syn. Eugenia aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata) are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Cloves are native to Indonesia and used as a spice in cuisines all over the world. The English name derives from Latin clavus 'nail' (also the origin of French clou 'nail') as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. Cloves are now harvested primarily in Indonesia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; they are also grown in India under the name Lavang. In Vietnam, it is called đinh hương. In Indonesia it is called cengkeh or cengkih.
The clove tree is an evergreen which grows to a height ranging from 8–12 m, having large square leaves and sanguine flowers in numerous groups of terminal clusters. The flower buds are at first of a pale color and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red, when they are ready for collecting. Cloves are harvested when 1.5–2 cm long, and consist of a long calyx, terminating in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals which form a small ball in the center.
Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, they are used sparingly.
Cloves have historically been used in Indian cuisine (both North Indian and South Indian). In North Indian cuisine, it is used in almost all rich or spicy dishes as an ingredient of a mix named garam masala, along with other spices, although it is not an everyday ingredient for home cuisine, nor is it used in summer very often. In the Maharashtra region of India it is used sparingly for sweet or spicy dishes, but rarely in everyday cuisine. In Ayurvedic medicine it is considered to have the effect of increasing heat in system, hence the difference of usage by region and season. In south Indian cuisine, it is used extensively in biryani along with "cloves dish" (similar to pilaf, but with the addition of other spices), and it is normally added whole to enhance the presentation and flavor of the rice.
Dried cloves are also a key ingredient in Indian masala chai, spiced tea, a special variation of tea popular in some regions, notably Gujarat. In the US, it is often sold under the name of "chai" or "chai tea", as a way of differentiating it from other types of teas sold in the US.
In Mexican cuisine, cloves are best known as "clavos de olor", and often used together with cumin and cinnamon.
In Vietnamese cuisine, cloves are often used to season the broth of Phở.
Due to the Indonesian influence, the use of cloves is widespread in the Netherlands. Cloves are used in cheeses, often in combination with cumin. Cloves are an essential ingredient for making Dutch speculaas. Furthermore, cloves are used in traditional Dutch stews like hachee.
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