11 Facts About Cloves

Facts About Cloves

Cloves are one of the most popular spices, used across cuisines worldwide. But there’s more to these dried buds than meets the eye. Here are 11 fascinating facts about the origins, history, and uses of cloves that will pique your interest in this versatile spice.


Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of the clove tree, an evergreen that thrives in tropical climates. Used as a spice for centuries in Asian and African cooking, cloves pack a powerful punch and have been equally treasured for their medicinal properties.

Today, cloves flavor everything from Christmas hams to Indian curries. They also feature prominently in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic treatments. Beyond cuisine and wellness, cloves have a rich history intertwined with tales of adventure, war, and commerce.

Here are 11 intriguing facts about these tiny dried buds that have left an outsized imprint on human civilization.

Facts About Cloves

Facts About Cloves

1. Cloves only grew originally on 5 small islands

Up until the colonial era, cloves grew exclusively on 5 tiny islands in Indonesia, including Bacan, Makian, Moti, Ternate, and Tidore. Known as the Moluccas or Spice Islands, this remote archipelago was the world’s only source for the valuable spice for centuries.

2. Cloves were first traded in China during the Han Dynasty

Chinese records reveal that cloves were already being imported during the Han Dynasty (207 BCE to 220 CE). They likely came from their native islands via spice traders.

3. Cloves were popular for medicinal uses in ancient India and China

Ancient medical texts from India and China prescribe cloves for various ailments. Chinese physicians used cloves to treat indigestion, diarrhea, hernia, and ringworm. Ayurvedic healers in India relied on cloves for tooth decay and halitosis.

4. Cloves were highly coveted during the Roman Empire

During the early centuries of the Roman Empire, cloves became extremely precious. When the Romans discovered cloves could relieve indigestion and flatulence, demand skyrocketed. Cloves soon became one of the most sought-after spices in Europe.

5. Sailors believed cloves warded off the Plague

As the notorious Black Death ravaged 14th century Europe, many believed that cloves could offer protection. Sailors commonly carried satchels of cloves to prevent plague infection during their voyages.

6. The Dutch waged decades of bloody battles over cloves

In the early 17th century, the Dutch formed the United East India Company and waged decades of conquest to monopolize the lucrative clove trade. They ousted the Portuguese and Spanish to gain complete control of the Moluccas by 1621.

7. Cloves helped kickstart the trans-Atlantic slave trade

Due to the tremendous European demand, clove production was ramped up in the 17th and 18th century by exploiting slave labor. The Dutch relocated large numbers of African and Asian slaves to work on clove plantations.

8. Cloves were used to make early cigarettes

In Victorian England, cloves were the main flavoring for primitive cigarettes. Early versions of cigarettes consisted of finely chopped tobacco and cloves rolled together in paper tubes.

9. Indonesia remains the top global producer of cloves

Today, Indonesia enjoys a commanding 75% share of the international clove market. The island of Madagascar off Africa’s east coast is ranked second for clove production.

10. Cloves contain a chemical called eugenol

The compound eugenol is responsible for cloves’ aroma and flavor. Eugenol is extracted from cloves to make essential oils for fragrances. It also gets synthesized as a local anesthetic for toothaches.

11. Cloves can be used to make jewelry

In addition to their culinary uses, cloves can be fashioned into jewelry as beads or pendants. Their naturally reddish-brown color is eye-catching, and their sweet, spicy scent is an added benefit.


From ancient folk remedies to modern mouthwash, cloves have come a long way from their native islands in Indonesia. Over millennia, these humble dried buds have been the impetus for wars, mass migration, and global trade.

Beyond their rich history, cloves have earned their reputation as an incredibly versatile spice. Their sweet, nutty, peppery flavor enhances both savory and sweet dishes. Oil extracted from cloves provides the distinctive taste in many popular foods and beverages. Plus, cloves have time-honored medicinal uses backed by modern science.

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FAQ about Cloves

What are cloves?

Cloves are aromatic flower buds originating from the tree Syzygium aromaticum, commonly used as a spice and flavoring in various cuisines and consumer products.

Where are cloves native to?

Cloves are native to the Maluku Islands, also known as the Moluccas, in Indonesia.

What are the uses of cloves?

Cloves are used in the cuisine of various regions, lending flavor to meats, fruits, and beverages. They are also used in non-culinary applications such as betel quids, cigarettes, and as a mold inhibitor.

What are the potential medicinal uses of cloves?

Although not approved by the US FDA for medicinal purposes, clove oil containing eugenol is considered effective for toothache pain. However, its effectiveness for other purposes such as fever reduction and mosquito repellent remains inconclusive.

What is the history of clove trade?

Until the colonial era, cloves only grew on a few islands in the Moluccas. The Austronesian peoples were the first to trade cloves, and modern clove farming first developed on the east coast of Madagascar. The spice was also traded to various regions before the establishment of Southeast Asian maritime trade. During the colonial era, cloves were traded like oil, with efforts to gain a monopoly in production.

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