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Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum [L.] Merr. et Perry)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalFlores Caryophylli
botanicalEugenia caryophyllata, Caryophyllus aromaticus
Amharicቅርንፉድ
Krinfud
Arabicكبش قرنفل
كَبْش قَرُنْفُل, كَبْشُ قَرَنْفُل
Kabsh qarunfil, Kabsh qaranful
ArmenianՉոր Բողբոջ
Chor Poghpoch, Chor Boghbojh
Assameseলং
Long
AzeriMixək
Михәк
BasqueIltze-kanela, Iltzea
BelarusianГваздзікі, Гваздзіка
Gvazdziki, Hvazdzika
Bengaliলবঁগ
Lobongo
Bodoलन
Lan
BretonJenofl, Tach-jenofl
BulgarianКарамфил
Karamfil
BurmeseLey nyim bwint, Lay-hnyin
CatalanClau
Chakma𑄣𑄧𑄁, 𑄣𑄧𑄋𑄴
Long, Lang
Chinese
(Cantonese)
丁香 [dìng hēung]
Ding heung
Chinese
(Mandarin)
丁香 [dīng xiāng]
Ding xiang, Ting hsiang
CroatianKlinčić
CzechHřebíček
DanishNellike, Kryddernellike
Dhivehiކަރަންފޫ
Karanfoo
Dogriलौंग
Laung
DutchKruidnagel
Dzongkhaལི་ཤི་
Lishi
EsperantoKariofilo
EstonianHarilik nelgipuu, Nelk
Farsiمیخک
Mikhak
FinnishNeilikka, Mausteneilikka
FrenchClou de girofle
GaelicClòbha, Clo-mheas
GalicianCravo, Cravo de Olor
GaroLong mosola
Georgianმიხაკი
Mikhak’i, Mikhaki, Mixaki
GermanNelke, Gewürznelke
GreekΓαρίφαλο, Γαρύφανο, Καρυόφυλλα, Μοσχοκάρφι, Γαρύφαλλο
Garifalo, Kariofilla, Moschokarfi, Garyfano, Garifano, Karyofylla, Garyfallo, Garifallo
Greek (Old)Καρυόφυλλον
Karyophyllon
Gujaratiલવિંગ
Laving
HausaKanumfari
Hebrewציפורן, צפרן
צִיפּוֹרֵן, צִפֹּרֶן
Tsiporen
Hindiलौंग
Laung
HungarianSzegfű, Szegfűszeg
IcelandicNegull
IndonesianCéngké, Cengkih
IrishClóbh
ItalianChiodo di garofano
Japanese丁字, 丁子, 丁香
ちょうじ, ちょうこう
チョウジ, チョウコウ, クローブ
Chōji, Choji, Chōkō, Choko, Kurobu
Kannadaಲವಂಗ
Krambu, Lavanga
Kashmiriرونگ
Rong
KazakhҚалампыр, Калампыр
Kalampır, Qalampır
KhasiLong
KhmerKhan pluu, Khlam puu
Korean정향, 정향나무, 클로브
Jeonghyang, Chonghyang, Jeonghyang-namu, Chonhyang-namu, Kullobu
Laoກ້ານພູ
Kan phou
LatinCariofilum, Gariofilum
LatvianKrustnagliņas
LithuanianGvazdikėliai, Kvapusis gvazdikmedis
MacedonianКаранфил
Karanfil
Maithiliलङ्ग
Long
MalayBunga cengkeh
Malayalamഗ്രാമ്പ്, ഗ്രാമ്പൂ, ഗ്രാന്പു, കറന്പൂ, കറയാം, കറയാന്പൂ, കരയാമ്പൂ, കരയാന്പൂ, കറയാമ്പ്, കരയാന്പൂ, കരയാന്പൂ
Grampu, Granpu, Karampoo, Karayam, Karayampu, Karayanpoo,
MalteseQronfol
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)লৌং
ꯂꯧꯡ
Loung
Marathiलवंग
Lavang
MizoLawng par
Nepaliल्वाङ्ग
Lwang
Newari
(Nepalbhasa)
लंवँ, लवू
Langvang, Lavu
NorwegianNellik
Oriyaଲବଙ୍ଗ
Labanga
PashtoKala
PolishGoździków korzenny, Goździk, Goździki (plural)
PortugueseCravinho; Craveiro-da-índia (tree); Cravo-da-índia (Brazil)
Punjabiਲੌਂਗ
Laung
RomanianCuișoareCuişoare
RussianГвоздика
Gvozdika
SanskritShriisanjnan, Lavanga
SerbianКаранфилић, Клинчић плод, Клинчић
Karanfilić, Klinčić plod, Klinčić
Sinhalaකරාබු නැටි, කරාබු
Karabu nati, Karabu
SlovakKlinček
SlovenianDišeči klinčevec, Klinčki, Nageljnove žbice
SpanishClavo, Clavo de olor
SrananNagri
SwahiliKarafuu
SwedishNejlikor, Kryddnejlikor
TagalogClovas de comer, Klabong pako
TajikМехак
Mekhak
Tamilகராம்பு, கிராம்பு
Graambu, Krambu, Karambu, Kirambu
Teluguలవంగాలు, లవంగము
Lavangalu, Lavangamu
Thaiกานพลู
Kan plu, Kaanphlu
Tibetanལི་ཤི་
Lishi
Tigrinyaቅንፍር
Qenfer
Tuluಲವಂಗೊ
Lavango
TurkishKaranfil, Karanfil baharatı
TurkmenGwozdika
Гвоздика
Urduلونگ
Loung
UzbekQalampir
Қалампир
VietnameseĐinh hương
Dinh huong
WelshClawlys, Clof
Yiddishנעגעלען
Negelen
Syzygium aromaticum: Dried cloves
Dried cloves
Syzygium aromaticum: Drying cloves
Fresh cloves spread on the ground for drying.
Used plant part

Flower buds. The buds are harvested shortly before the flower would open.

Essential oil is also produced from the leaves, although I did not find any re­ferences to their culinary use (the leaves are certainly aromatic enough to make them poten­tially inter­esting). The ripe fruits (mother of clove) are highly aromatic, but are (at best) used locally in the production areas.

Plant family

Myrtaceae (myrtle family).

Syzygium aromaticum: Ripening mother of clove (fruits of the clove tree)
Ripening mother of clove
Syzygium aromaticum: Sun-drying cloves
Drying cloves in Zanzibar

Photo © Nicole Meyer

Sensory qual­ity

Strong­ly aro­matic and very inten­sive fra­grance; fiery and burn­ing taste.

Main con­stituents

The content of es­sential oil in cloves of good quality may exceed 15%. The oil itself is domi­nated by eugenol (70 to 85%), eugenol acetate (15%) and β‑caryo­phyllene (5 to 12%), which together make up 99% of the oil.

Cloves contain about 2% of the triterpene oleanolic acid.

Origin

The clove tree is en­demic in the North Moluccas (Indo­nesia) and was of old culti­vated on the islands of Ternate, Tidore, Bacan and the West coast of Halma­hera. The Dutch extended culti­vation to several other islands in the Moluccas, but only after the end of the Dutch mono­poly (18.th century), clove trees were intro­duced to other countries.

Syzygium aromaticum: Sultanate of Zanzibar and Pemba Flag
The flag of the former sultanate of Zanzibar and Pemba

The most impor­tant pro­duction area today is the island of Pemba, which together with Zanzibar forms one part of the state of Tanzania. The whole island of Pemba is covered with clove gardens, and it is reported that the island can be smelled on any ship approaching it. The short-lived Sultanate of Zanzibar and Pemba (1963–1964) had a flag showing two clove buds.

Cloves are also grown on other East African islands, most notably, Madagascar. In Indonesia, clove production has recovered from poor decades after World War II, such that the country was forced to import cloves to satisfy the huge domestic market. Since the 1980s, Indonesia is again producing in large scale, although little of the Indonesian crop gets exported.

Syzygium aromaticum: Pohon cengkeh afu
Old clove tree
Syzygium aromaticum: Mother of Cloves
Ripe clove fruits (mother of clove)
Syzygium aromaticum: Clove trees
Clove trees in Northern Sulawesi
Etymology

The name clove, as well as Spanish clavo, Catalan clau, Por­tuguese cravinho and Tagalog clovas, ulti­mately derives from Latin clavus nail (be­cause of shape resem­blance). The word made its way into English via Old French clou. The word clove is related to the verb cleave (which is what you can do with a nail) and therefore also to clove as in a clove of garlic. See there for further connections of clavus.

Most Germanic and Germanic-influenced tongues have a different word for clove: German Nelke, Norwegian nellik, Danish nellike, Icelandic negull, Swedish neijlikor, Yiddish negelen [נעגעלען], Finnish neilikka, Estonian nelgi and Sranan nagri. These are related to German Nagel, nail.

Nail and its cognates in Germanic languages (Old High German nagal, English nail, Icelandic nagli, Swedish nagel) basically means either nail of finger or toe or slim pointed piece of metal; the second meaning is younger and does not appear outside the Germanic languages: Old Irish ingen, Latin unguis nail, Latvian nags hoof, Greek onyx [ὄνυξ] claw, Sanskrit anghri [अंघ्रि] foot. The vowel variations made reconstruction of the Proto-Indo–European root behind all these forms somewaht difficult, but laryngal theory suggests H₃NOGʰ or H₃N̥Gʷʰ (with possible extensions) nail, claw as a reasonable guess.

Cloves are named nail spice in other languages, too; for example, take Russian gvozdika [гвоздика] which comes from gvozd’ [гвоздь] nail. As another example, one finds a group of related names in Western to Central Asia: Georgian mikhak’i [მიხაკი], Azeri mixək and Farsi mikhak [میخک] belong to the same kin as Azeri mıx and Farsi mikh [ميخ] nail. Similar names for nail are found in several Turk languages (Turkish mıh and Uighur mih), suggesting that the name is ultimately of Altaic origin.

Syzygium aromaticum: ALT
Syzygium aromaticum: Clove flowers
Clove flowers
Syzygium aromaticum: Clove buds, immature
Unripe clove buds

In the same spi­rit, Hebrew tsiporen [ציפורן] also has two mean­ings finger­nail and clove, although it is not related to any of the former men­tioned lan­guages. In its Old Hebrew form tsipporen [צפרן, צִפֹּרֶן], that word also ap­pears in the Old Testa­ment, but only in the mean­ings finger nail and tip, point, not in re­ference to the spice. It is be­lieved that cloves came to the Medi­terra­nean no sooner than the first or second century B.C.

Another unre­lated lan­guage names cloves as nails: Basque iltze-kanela literally means cinnamon nails (iltzatu nail); so the spice was named both for its shape and, even if in­accu­rately, for its fra­grance (it can also be called iltzea for short). See Indo­nesian cinnamon for the etymo­logy of the second part of this name.

German Gewürz­nelke, Dutch kruidnagel or Swedish krydd­nejlikor are emphatic formations meaning condiment clove. For the determinative elements in these compounds, see mugwort for the German and savory for the Dutch and Swedish names.

Syzygium aromaticum: Clove flower
Clove flower

In Old Greek, the clove spice was known as karyo­phyllon [καρυό­φυλλον], which ap­pears to be a com­pound of two Greek nouns: karyon [κάρυον] nut and phyllon [φύλλον] leaf. Yet such a compound is poorly motivated: Clove is neither nut nor leaf, and does not even look so. More­over, practi­cally all names of foreign spices in Greek tongue are loans from languages of the trading peoples (see cinnamon, long pepper, cassia, sesame, ginger and malabathron for examples). So I suspect that karyophyllon is, in fact, a corrupted name of cloves in a tongue of South or South East Asia, probably India. For example, there is the Sanskrit name katuka phala [कटुक फल] pungent fruit (or pungent nutmeg) given to an unidentified aromatic plant (both elements of this name have no Indo–European etymology, and it is supposed that they stem from an unknown Indian language, possibly Dravidian or Munda). Since cloves would probably have been traded in the seaports of South India, it is interesting to note that the modern Dravidian languages still have remarkable similar names: Tamil karambu [கராம்பு] and Malayalam karayanpu [കറയാന്പൂ]. Cf. also Thai kanphlu [กานพลู], Lao kanphu [ກ້ານພູ], and Sinhala karabu [කරාබු]. Japanese kurobu [クローブ], on the other hand, is just a modern adaption of English clove; the traditional Japanese name of clove derives from Chinese.

Karyophyllon [Καρυό­φυλλον] is not only direct pro­genitor of modern Greek gari­falo [γαρί­φαλο] clove, but was also, via Latin gariofilum, transferred to some present-day Romance lan­guages, e. g., Italian garo­fano, and French girofle. Further related words for clove are Turkish karanfil, Serbian karan­filić [каран­филић], Bulgarian karamfil [карам­фил], Kazakh qalampır [қалампыр], Dhivehi karanfoo [ކަރަންފޫ], Swahili karafuu and several Semitic names, e. g., Arabic al-qaranful [القرنفل] and Amharic krinfud [ቅርንፉድ].

Syzygium aromaticum: Sterile branch of clove
Sterile branch of clove
Syzygium aromaticum: Young clove buds
Young clove buds

In some lan­guages, cloves share the name with the fragrant ornamental carnation or pink (Dianthus caryo­phyllatus), e. g., German Nelke, Italian garofano, Greek garifallo [γαρύ­φαλλο], Bela­rusian gvazdziki [гваздзікі] and Russian gvozdika [гвоздика]. In English, the orna­mental is also known as gilly­flower which is etymo­logically related to Greek karyo­phyllon and thus akin to all the names men­tioned in the pre­vious para­graph.

Another group of names for clove are found in India, e. g., Pashto and Urdu lung [لونګ, لونگ], Kashmiri rong [رونگ], Hindi and Punjabi laung [लौंग, ਲੌਂਗ], Gujarati laving [લવિંગ], Bengali labango [লবংগ] and Telugu lavangalu [లవంగము]. These names are usually explained to derive from a Malayic language, although cloves are called cengke in both modern Indonesian and Malay. Cf., however, Tagalog klabong.

The Tamil and Ma­layalam names ilavangam [இலவங்கம், ഇലവംഗം] are part of the group of names quoted in the pre­vious para­graph. Sur­prisingly, their prime denotation is cinnamon tree, alt­hough, according to dictio­naries, they may mean clove on occasion.

The botanical genus name Syzygium derives from Greek syn [σύν] together, with and zygon [ζυγόν] yoke (from zeug­nynai [ζευγνύναι] join). The name refers to the petals, which are merged (joined) into a cap-like structure.

Syzygium aromaticum: Clove ship
Ship model made from dried cloves (handicraft of the Moluccas)
Syzygium aromaticum: mother of clove (clove fruits)
Clove berries (mother of clove)

The Chinese term for cloves is ding xiang [丁香], also trans­cribed ting hsiang and in count­less other variants; it was trans­ferred to Viet­namese as dinh huong [đinh hương] and to Korean as chong-hyang [정향] (on the other hand, the ana­logous Japanese cho-ko is less common). The second element xiang [] means spice, fragrance and is often found in the names of aromatics or well-flavoured foods; it also forms the first part in the toponym Hongkong (Cantonese heung gong [香港], Mandarin xiang gang [香港] fragrant harbour).

The first part of that name, ding [], typi­cally means small thing, chunk; it also de­notes a specific cut­ting technique to chop meats into rather small pieces, and a male sur­name; it does not mean nail. Yet, I think that the original meaning of ding xiang might also have been nail spice: First, the shape of the Chinese character evolved from a nail, and the modern language has a homo­phonous word ding [] nail (the nail character is com­posed of jin [] metal with the phonetic com­plement ding [] and thus means a thing made from metal and spoken ding). Second, the Korean chong-hyang is written 釘香 in the now obsolete Sino–Korean writing, using the traditional variant of the nail character. Perhaps, such a spelling was also possible in an earlier stage of Chinese, although 钉香 is not valid in the contemporary language.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Cloves (indianetzone.com) Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Nelke (rezkonv.de via archive.org) A Pinch of Cloves (www.apinchof.com) The Epicentre: Cloves Chinese Herb Database: Cloves Medical Spice Exhibit: Cloves chemikalienlexikon.de: Acetyleugenol Transport Information Service: Cloves Sorting Syzygium names (www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au) The Mythic Chinese Unicorn zhi: The Cinnamon Route (via web.archive.org) The Economist: A Taste of Adventure


Syzygium aromaticum: Ternate Moluccas/Maluku Indonesia
View on the island Ternate from Tidore
Syzygium aromaticum: Kota Ternate / Maluku
Ternate City
Syzygium aromaticum/Myristica fragrans: Monas Kota Ternate / Maluku Utara / Indonesia
A monument for clove and nutmeg in the center of Ternate city
Cloves are an ancient spice and, because of their exceptional aromatic strength, have always been held in high esteem by cooks in Europe, Northern Africa the greater part of Asia.

Trade between the clove island Ternate and Imperial China goes back at least to the Han dynasty, some 2500 years ago; a much older archeologigal find at an Mesopotamian site in Northern Syria is of doubtful nature. In China, cloves were not only used for cooking but also for deodorization; anyone having an audience with the Han emperor had to chew cloves to prevent any undesired smell. Arab traders brought cloves to Europe in in late antiquity; they were very expensive.

Gama lama in Ternate / Maluku Utara / Indonesia
The Gamalama volcano dominates Ternate Island

When the Euro­peans, in the Age of Ex­plora­tion, finally found the clove pro­ducing islands, they took enor­mous inter­est in securing a constant spice supply: The few tourists visiting the small island of Ternate (9 km dia­meter) will be surprised to find crumbling remnants of about 10 fortresses, built by Portuguese, Spanish, British and finally Dutch soldiers in the 16.th and early 17.th century. During all of the 17.th century, the Dutch kept an effective monopoly in the clove trade, which guaranteed high profits to them.

But Dutch her­itage in today’s Ternate is small, at least com­pared to the great Dutch in­fluence still felt in the nutmeg pro­ducing Banda islands. Still there is an Islâmic sultan in Ternate in his great palace full of Chinese ceramics of all epochs; he still for tradition regularly gives sacrifices to Hindu deities, and if (as happens often) the island volcano Gamalama (1700 m) becomes active, he would circumnavigate the island thrice with his magic canoe, as have done his ancestors in Hindu and even pre-Hindu days. Yet don’t get lulled by this picture of idyllic backwardness — Ternate is an economically productive area, houses the administration authorities for the whole North Moluccas and its sultan takes part in Indonesian domestic and foreign politics. Furthermore, I have seen only few places in Indonesia where people show that much of regional patriotism.

It is amazing that cloves are not (or at least, very rarely and only for sweets) used in the cuisine of the Moluccas; actually, in whole Indonesia, they are not an important spice. Nonetheless, Indonesians are the main consumers of cloves and use up nearly 50% of the world’s production. But, alas!, not for cooking but for smoking: Cigarettes flavoured with cloves (kretek) are extremely popular and nearly every (male) Indonesian enjoys them. Their sweet, incense-like aroma pervades Indonesian restaurants, buses, markets and offices (see tonka bean for more on flavoured tobacco).

Syzygium aromaticum: Filter Kretek Cigarettes: Gudang Garam International
Indonesian clove-flavoured cigarettes (kretek)

It is impossible to mention all cuisines where cloves are used; they are much loved by the Chinese, play an important rôle in Sri Lankan cooking, are extensively used in the Moghul cuisine of Northern India (see black cumin), enjoy high popularity in the Middle East and many Arab countries and are a common spice in Northern Africa. In all these countries, they are preferred for meat dishes; frequently, rice is aromatized with a few cloves. In Ethiopia, coffee is often roasted together with some cloves in the so-called coffee ceremony (see also cardamom).

Cloves have less use in Europe, where their strong flavour is not so much appreciated. They are much used for special types of sweets or sweet breads, but especially for stewed fruits (together with cinnamon). Plain rice is often flavoured one or two cloves. In France, cloves often go into long-simmered meat stews or hearty meat broths. In England, they are most popular in pickles.

Consequently, many spice mixtures contain cloves. They form an essential part in the Chinese five spice powder (see star anise), frequently appear in curry powders (see curry leaves), determine the character of the Moghul variant of garam masala (see cumin) and are a component of the Arabic baharat (see paprika). Mixtures from Africa containing cloves are Moroccan ras el hanout (see cubeb pepper), Tunisian gâlat dagga (see grains of paradise) and Ethiopian berbere (see long pepper). A well-known European spice mixture depending on cloves is the French quatre épices (see nutmeg). Lastly, cloves have also established themselves in México (see paprika about Mexican mole sauces).

The taste of the famous Worcestershire sauce (also spelled Worcester), an Indo-British contribution to international cuisine, is markedly dominated by clove aroma. The sauce is composed of several spices (besides cloves, garlic, tamarind, paprika or chiles are most frequently found), fish extract, soy sauce, treacle, vinegar (or lemon juice) and salt. There is no authentic recipe, and therefore every vendor may sell his own creation. I use this product mostly for vegetables, but this may be a matter of personal taste; British cooks employ it also for meat and especially scrambled eggs.

Like many other British toponyms, Worcester is pronounced quite irregularly: [ˈwʊ.stə].



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