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Cloves

Overview

Scientific Name: Syzygium aromaticum

Plant Part: Flower buds

Other Names: Laung, Stroužek, Clou de Girofle, Nelke, Cengkeh, Huisie

Cloves are flower buds of an evergreen tree called the clove tree or scientifically called Syzygium aromaticum.

Native to Indonesia, specifically the North Moluccan Islands which until the 16th century were the only source of cloves on earth.

Now clove plantations can be found around the world including Madagascar, Brazil, Tanzania, India, and Sri Lanka, and are harvested throughout the year across different countries.

The clove tree can grow up to 8-12 meters in height and will take anywhere from 4 to 7 years to flower and will reach its peak flowering stage at the age of about 15 years.

The tree has large, shiny dark green leaves that grow to about five inches long and thrive in wet and tropical conditions.

The clove flower buds appear in clusters and change colour as they approach harvesting starting from a pale hue, gradually turning green, then transitioning to a bright red or pink.

The flower buds are carefully picked when they display a reddish or pinkish colour and then dried to obtain what we know as clove, a brownish-blackish spice resembling a nail.

From a taste perspective, cloves have an intense flavour with a certain amount of pungency and sweetness. They also tend to have a numbing effect on the tongue when eaten raw.

History of Cloves

The first written accounts of cloves go back to the Han dynasty around the 2nd Century BCE, brought in by the Javanese traders. A few centuries later, cloves reached India where they were used in ancient medicine for a variety of ailments. In Sanskrit, cloves were given the name Kalika-Phala, meaning black fruit. Written accounts of this from India can be found dating back to the 1st century CE.

It is believed that it is from India that the dried flower made its way to the Mediterranean and European parts, given that India was actively trading with the West.

A Roman writer by the name of Pliny the Elder was the first to mention cloves in his book, Natural History published in 70 CE, where he describes cloves as a grain resembling pepper but larger and more fragile. He calls it caryophyllom and it is believed to grow on an Indian lotus tree.

Other written accounts of cloves include that of a Greek physician named Paul of Aegina and a Byzantine physician named Alexander of Tralles from the 5th and 6th centuries CE.  

Interestingly, the origins of cloves remained a mystery to the Western world until the publication of the journals of the great Venetian merchant and explorer, Marco Polo in the year 1300. He mentions in his book that cloves were being actively traded at ports in the East China Sea and that there was a link between the Hui Muslims in China and the Moluccan spice traders. 

Then came the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th century and through their strategically positioned trading posts in the Far East, took complete control of the clove trade, which lasted for almost 100 years.

Finally came the Dutch and the British who also wanted to control the trade of this valuable spice including others that were grown on the Moluccas Islands.

Harvesting and Post Harvesting Practices

The flowers are ready to be harvested as soon as they take on a reddish or pinkish colour, this may take up to 4 to 6 months from when the flower buds first appear.

Given the height of the clove tree, bamboo ladders are used to carefully remove the flower buds as this ensures that the final product after curing is still intact and of good quality.

Also, this ensures that the branches are not damaged as this can affect the future flower-bearing capacity of the tree.

Curing

The next step in the process is to remove the flowers from the clusters and then dry them out under the sun. The drying process can take 4 to 5 days, once ready, the stem would turn dark brown in color and the bud turns light brown in colour. 

Cleaning and Grading

The final process in the post-harvesting processing of cloves involves removing any farm-level impurities such as stems, seeds, dust, and weeds from the lot and then grading the cloves based on their size. This process can either be done by hand or by a machine with a vibratory action and a series of sieves through which the cloves are passed.

Our Supply Chain

The Sabor Co. procures its cloves directly from farmer partners, mostly with marginal land holdings in the following countries.

The Sabor Co. works directly with farmers across India to source some of the finest spices. For cloves, we have a relationship with farmers in the Kottayam district of Kerala. Read more

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