The appearance of cloves is dark and exotic, its smell is aromatic, nostril-clearing and, according to Roland's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, it carries an air of mystery and romance. Cloves are actually flower buds, unopened and dried, from one species of myrtle tree, which typically grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet.
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Cloves by Country
Cloves are native to Indonesia, but are grown in Latin America countries, the West Indies and Brazil, as well as Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. Indonesia is still the largest producer of cloves, partly because of its demand for use in exotic cigarette blends.
For grinding purposes, there are no significant differences between cloves from the Madagascar area and those of Brazil.
The clove bud consists of two sections, the stem and the bulbous head. For culinary use in cooking, cloves can be used ground or whole. Whole cloves are intact, with the heads and stems attached; the head and stem might not necessarily be attached when it is manufactured for use as ground cloves.
Hand-picked cloves from Penang, Malaysi and Ceylon, Sri Lanka, are exported to the United States and elsewhere. The term hand-picked does not refer to the method of harvesting, but refers to hand selection of the biggest and highest quality cloves.
Cloves by Oil Content
One other quality factor in cloves is the oil content. High quality cloves have an oil content of 15 percent or higher. Cloves are now purchased for import, not so much by their country of origin, but according to the oil content. The oil that gives cloves their distinctive fragrance is eugenol.
Eugenol is used in the United States and other countries, not only in food products, but also in perfumes and cosmetics, mouthwashes and toothpastes. Eugenol has anesthetic properties and gently chewing a clove can help to temporarily relieve toothache pain and is sometimes used by dentists as a mild anesthetic. Clove oil is derived not only from the dried flower buds but also from the leaves and stems.
Indonesian Cloves for Cigarettes
Cigarettes known as kreteks are two parts tobacco and one part cloves. Approximately 36 billion kretek cigarettes are produced annually. The term kretek refers to the clove cigarette's propensity to crackle when it is lit. The high demand for the use of cloves in cigarette production serves to maintain a relatively high market price for this aromatic spice.