Cloves are one of the highly prized spices, widely recognized all over the world for their medicinal and culinary qualities. The spices actually are the "flower buds" from evergreen rain-forest tree native to Indonesia.
Botanically, clove-spice belongs to the family of Myrtaceae in the genus; Sygyzium, and scientifically named as Sygizium aromaticum.
At their initial stages of development, flower buds are pale in color which gradually turn to green, and, finally develop into bright-red clove buds by the time of harvesting. The buds are generally picked up when they reach 1.5-2 cm in length.
Structurally, each bud consists of a long calyx; terminating in four spreading sepals and four unopened petals. These closed petals form into a small ball (dome) at the top. The sweet aroma of cloves is due to eugenol, an essential oil in them.
The active principles in the clove are known to have antioxidant, anti-septic, local anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative and anti-flatulent properties.
The spice contains health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol. It is a phenyl-propanoids class of chemical compound which gives pleasant, sweet aromatic fragrances to the clove-bud. Eugenol has local anesthetic and antiseptic properties, hence; useful in dental care essentials as well as in treatment procedures.
The other important constituents in this spice include:
essential oils: acetyl eugenol, beta-caryophyllene and vanillin, crategolic acid;
tannins: gallotannic acid, methyl salicylate (painkiller);
the flavonoids: eugenin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and eugenitin;
triterpenoids: such as oleanolic acid, stigmasterol and campesteroland several sesquiterpenes.
The active principles in the clove may increase gut motility as well as improve the digestion power through increasing gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions. Thus, helps relieve indigestion and constipation problems.
The spice also contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and magnesium. Potassium is an important electrolyte of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Further, the spice buds contain very good amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene levels. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties. Vitamin A is also required by the body for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin in addition to essential for vision. Consumption of natural foods rich in flavonoids helps to protect the body from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Additionally, this spice is a good source of vitamin-K, vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin (vitamin B-1), vitamin-C and riboflavin. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Clove buds can be readily available year around in the spice markets. Good quality buds should release sweet fragrance when squeezed between the thumb and index fingers. In the store, buy whole buds instead of powder since oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders. The buds should be wholesome with stem and sepals, and compact.
Whole cloves should be stored in cool dark place in close containers for many months and can be milled using "hand mill" as and when required. Ground/powder clove should be stored inside the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be used as early as possible since it loses its flavor quickly.
The essential oil, eugenol in this spice has been in therapeutic use in dentistry as a local-anesthetic and antiseptic for teeth and gum.
Eugenol also has been found to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics, but further detailed studies required to establish its benefits.
Its decoction is sometimes used in treating flatulence and indigestion in traditional medicine preparations.
It is also thought to have natural anti-parasite (kills intestinal worms) function.
The essential volatile oils functions as a rubefacient, meaning that it irritates the skin and expands the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to make the skin feel warmer, making it a popular home remedy for arthritis and sore muscles, used either as a poultice or in hot baths.
Clove oil is also used in aromatherapy.
In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, clove is generally grounded just before preparing dishes and added at the last moment in the cooking recipes. This is because prolonged cooking results in evaporation of its essential oils.
This popular spice has been used in preparation of many regular dishes in Asian and Chinese cuisine since ancient times. Along with other spices like pepper, turmeric, ginger etc. is being used in marinating chicken, fish, and meat.
Some of Indian vegetarian, chicken and rice dishes (biriyani) contain cloves and in the Middle East, it is used in meat and rice dishes.
The spice also features in the preparation of soups, barbecue sauces, pickling and as one of the ingredients in curry powders.
Consumption of dishes prepared with large quantity of clove can cause gastrointestinal irritation, central nervous system disorders. Recipes prepared with this spice should be avoided in individuals with stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis conditions. Eating cloves is also avoided during pregnancy. (Medical disclaimer)
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