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Intensely aromatic with a sweet pungent flavor. Add to mulling and pickling spices, stews and pot roast, or use to stud your holiday ham.
Cloves are the dried, unopened flower buds of a tropical evergreen tree. It’s the fragrance as much as the flavor that makes cloves so prized in kitchens around the world. In China’s Han dynasty, for instance, the clove was used to sweeten the breath. A few cloves in the mouth were mandatory for anyone approaching the emperor. Today, the aroma of cloves is one of the pleasures of the winter holidays. The enticing smell might come from a baked ham or spice cookies fresh from the oven. Or it could be the aroma of a pomander, which is a whole orange, studded with cloves and tied with a ribbon.
Picture apple cider with whole cloves and orange slices simmering on the stove, or a clove-studded ham glistening with bourbon and brown sugar glaze. Could anything feel—or taste—more cozy? Cloves aren’t just perfect for winter. They’re an essential year-round flavoring. You’ll find them in Indonesian, Indian and Mexican spice blends. They bring rich, warm flavor to ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, a lively bite to pickles and relishes and spicy undertones to soup and stews. Use whole cloves in slow-cooked and simmered dishes. Be sure to remove them before serving—most people find cloves too strong to enjoy whole. You’ll know they’re McCormick cloves if they smell sweet and spicy, like a just-baked gingerbread cookie.
When ground, cloves deliver all the heady aroma and sharp, warm flavor this essential spice has to offer. In Europe and North America, ground cloves are known for their role in sweets. Pumpkin pie and spice cake wouldn’t be the same without them. But in southeast Asia, among other places, cloves are a must-have for savory spice blends used in curries, such as Indian garam masala. They’re also one of the bold flavors behind pickles and condiments such as ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. If that first whiff from the bottle smells tangy and sweet, like a spice cookie fresh from the oven, you’ll know your ground cloves are McCormick. Use ground rather than whole cloves when you’d like the flavor to disperse evenly throughout the dish.
The clove’s bold character stands up to the rich flavor of roasted and grilled meat. We love adding a pinch or two of ground cloves to meatballs and meatloaf. Cloves are delicious in sweet and sour sauce for ham steaks, and also paired with cinnamon, garlic, brown sugar and red pepper in spice rubs for beef or lamb. Cloves bring warmth, spiciness and delicious aroma to baked ham. For a picture-perfect Sunday dinner, slice a diamond pattern into the ham’s surface and stud each section with a whole clove. Add a glaze of brown sugar, ground mustard, orange juice and orange peel.
Middle Eastern cooks combine cloves with cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace to flavor kebabs. We like to stir the spice mixture into yogurt and marinate cubes of beef, lamb or chicken in the fridge for a few hours. Thread the meat onto skewers with chunks of onion and red bell pepper, then grill or broil.
Clove is one of the key spices in ketchup—which many people find to be one of the key condiments of life! Ketchup affinities aside, clove makes a great addition to all things tomato. When making tomato sauce for meatballs or slow-cooking a beef brisket, add a few whole cloves. Just be sure to remove them before serving.
Nothing tastes quite so cozy as the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, especially in autumn when days are cool and nights grow long. Use the trio to flavor mulled cider or red wine, baked apples, pumpkin pie, homemade granola and oatmeal with almonds and poached pears.
It’s the fragrance of cloves as much as the flavor that makes them so prized in the northern Indian kitchen. They appear in the spice blend garam masala, in various versions of the spiced tea called chai, in recipes for meat and vegetable curries, and in biryani, where whole or ground cloves add sweetness and warmth to an aromatic dish of rice, meat and vegetables.
The clove is a key flavoring in many condiments, including ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and pickles. We love the spicy undertone it brings to vinegar for pickling. Add ground cloves, along with bay leaves, mustard seeds and whole peppercorns, to recipes for pickled vegetables such as cauliflower, onions or green beans.
In kitchens across the U.S. and Europe, the clove lends pungent aroma and intense flavor to many baked goods. It’s often paired with other spices, such as cinnamon and ginger. You’ll find it in everything from German pfeffernüesse cookies to the Spanish fig cake called pan de higo.
Whole cloves bring incredible depth to slow-cooked dishes. But you don’t want to bite into one. The flavor is too sharp, and the clove itself too brittle. Our trick: Stud a whole onion with a few cloves and add it when simmering stock, beans or stew. Then retrieve the cloves before serving.
It’s easy to make your own pickles—and there’s no better way to tailor the brine to your specific tastes. Success is in the flavoring. Try adding whole cloves, along with mustard seeds, bay leaves and dried garlic to any pickling brine, along with a bit of turmeric for color. Indian cooks prize whole cloves for their aroma as much as their flavor. They’re used in spice blends for curries, including the classic garam masala. You’ll also find cloves in the spiced tea called chai, and in biryani, where whole cloves lend sweet spice and warmth to an aromatic dish of rice, meat and vegetables.
You’d need a serious grinder to turn whole cloves into a powder fine enough to substitute for ground cloves. Luckily there are other options in your spice cupboard. Ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace bring some of the same warm flavor. Substitute equal measures of any or all of these spices for the ground clove in your recipe.
If you’re garnishing a ham with whole cloves before baking, there isn’t a recommended substitute. But if you’re baking sweets, making a marinade or glaze, or spiking a sauce, you have a handful of options. Ground clove will deliver the exact same flavor. It’s strong, so use no more than a pinch or two per 1/2 teaspoon of whole cloves. Other good stand-ins are ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace.
Keep ground and whole cloves in an airtight jar similar to all herbs and spices away from heat and moisture. We recommend a spice cabinet that is away from the sink, stove and not facing direct sunlight. When properly stored, ground cloves can last up to 3 years and whole cloves can last up to 5 years. As a best practice, we recommend checking the best use date before using any herb or spice.
Cloves pair nicely with these herbs and spices. Try them together the next time you're in the kitchen cooking something up for lunch or dinner.
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