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The bold, spicy scent and sharp, warm flavor of cloves make the kitchen and table heartwarming places to gather. 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.
Q: If I don’t have whole cloves on hand, what makes a good substitute?
A: 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.
Cloves have long been prized as much for their aroma as for their flavor. 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.
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