Latin name: Syzygium aromaticum
Uses: spice, cigarettes, pesticide

When it comes to Victorian pursuits, studding pomander oranges is right up there with eating flowers, and the clove handily accomplishes both. This tiny wooden nail of a spice is the flower bud of a tree in very aromatic company — the Myrtaceae is also the family of allspice, bay rum, and eucalyptus. Cloves are universally available, but you’ll find the best prices on whole cloves at Asian markets. Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place and they’ll retain their flavor for years; ground cloves should be used within a year.

Why is clove healthy?

Though small, cloves are potent sources of antioxidants that can lower your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Studies show that compounds in cloves may protect against ulcers, liver disease, and inflammatory illnesses like arthritis.

What does clove taste like?

Cloves’ distinct warm-spicy fragrance and flavor come from the aromatic compound eugenol, found in high concentrations in clove essential oil (it’s also found in cinnamon and nutmeg). The flavor of cloves can be overpowering if you go overboard, and biting into one is likely to make your mouth numb (which is why cloves are a very old toothache remedy).

Where does clove grow?

Traded by Austronesian peoples for millennia, cloves originated in the Moluccas (formerly known as the Spice Islands) of Indonesia and were grown there exclusively until the 16th century. Today Indonesia is still the top global producer (and consumer), followed by Zanzibar, Madagascar, India, and Sri Lanka. The buds of this tropical evergreen must be harvested right before the flowers open.

How do I prepare clove and what do I pair it with?

Add whole cloves to simmering broths and sweet pickle brines, in bags of mulling spices for ciders, or use them for studding citrus (especially oranges). Ground cloves should be used sparingly, as they can easily overtake a dish.

Take a cue from the adage “what grows together, goes together” and use cloves with other sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace, as has been done for millennia. You can use them in savory dishes as readily as in baking; as a component of pumpkin pie spice, you can add it to pies and sticky buns, but don’t be afraid to use it with savory grain and winter squash dishes, where the brightly fragrant spice will shine through earthy starches. Cloves love cumin, ginger, and alliums (as in phở broth) and play beautifully with anethole-forward ingredients like anise, fennel, and Thai basil.

Surprising fact:

Though clove cigarettes are primarily associated with goths in the United States, clove cigarettes come from the same place as cloves themselves. Kretek cigarettes have been smoked in Indonesia since the 1880s. Along with all other (non-menthol) flavored cigarettes, the Indonesian Djarum brand favored by American goths have been banned in the United States since 2009.