Ingredient Insight: Clove

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Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) is native to the Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) where nutmeg also originated. It is another spice that has a long history with evidence of trading, dating back to 1700BC. It was prized by the Romans and Chinese from 200BC. In 1605, the Maluka Islands came under Dutch control. The Dutch removed clove trees outside their control territory to maintain the clove monopoly. However, the Dutch eventually lost control of the clove trade and by the 18th century, clove was being grown in Zanzibar, Madagascar, Brazil, Indonesia and Tanzania. Once widely grown, the price of clove dropped, and it became a widely used spice, but it was once worth more than its weight in gold.

Clove is an evergreen tree that grows eight to 12 metres tall. The trees take twenty years to mature and then fruit for up to 50 years. The oldest tree on the island of Ternate (Afo) is reputedly 350-400 years old. It is of the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum, also known as caryophyllus aromaticus.

In Indonesia, 90 percent of the clove grown is used in the manufacture of cigarettes with 450 billion cigarettes produced per year. The primary producer of clove is Indonesia; however, this is all used within the country, so the major source of clove oil is Madagascar.

Clove Bud

Clove bud oil is the highest quality clove oil type. It is the most expensive and produced in small quantities. The flower buds turn bright red when ready for harvest. These are hand-harvested when 1.5-2cm long and then dried. Clove bud oil is usually water distilled. This method is preferred to prevent the eugenyl acetate hydrolysing to eugenol. Eugenyl acetate gives clove bud oil a distinctive creamy odour.

Clove Stem

Clove stem oil is from the twigs and stems. It is produced in small quantities and therefore the price is indicative of this. Clove bud essential oil is steam distilled from the stems upon which the clove bud grows. Distillation for clove stems takes around 12 hours. The clove stems contain around five to seven percent essential oil. The annual production is around 250 tons.

Clove Leaf

Clove leaf oil is steam distilled for around eight hours from the leaves of the clove tree. The leaves are not processed prior to distillation and contain around three to four percent essential oil. It is a commercial-grade oil produced in bulk quantities. Clove leaf oil is the least expensive clove oil type and is often used as a source of natural eugenol or for synthetic vanillin production.


Clove is used as a flavour ingredient and has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The dried buds of the clove tree have been used medicinally for at least 4,000 years. The clove flower has powerful antiseptic qualities making it ideal for all kinds of treatment for cuts, bruises, bites and even fungal infections. Clove bud oil is also used across the dentistry industry for its germicidal properties. The oil provides a numbing effect, which means it can be used as a mild anaesthetic during procedures or to cure tooth and gum pain.

Clove bud oil is used in flavours and fragrances along with clove stem oil. In aromatherapy, clove bud and clove stem oil are often used to relieve the symptoms of stress.

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