Few spices have as recognizable a scent as cloves. Warm and peppery in smell, cloves can be surprisingly bitter and even numbing in the mouth. Partnered with cinnamon or orange, cloves are a staple of holiday baking.
Cloves are native to Indonesia, but have been used in Europe since Roman times. The earliest mention of cloves is in China between 200 BCE and 220 CE. The Portuguese had a monopoly on the clove trade until the early 17th century. Cloves are now grown in Madagascar, Brazil, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
Cloves are the buds of a small tropical evergreen tree. The buds are picked before they flower and are dried in the sun.
Cloves should be used sparingly because they have a very strong flavor that can easily overpower other flavors. Most commonly used in baked goods, they can also be used in pickling and in spice blends to flavor meat. At Christmas time, they can be pressed into whole oranges to make scented pomander balls.