Cloves In Indian Cuisine
When you think of cloves, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe they bring back memories of creating a pomander using just a ribbon, an orange and a handful of the spice. Perhaps they make you think of a warming glass of mulled wine at Christmas. They might even conjure up an image of the dentist if you ever used cloves to temporarily alleviate the pain of a toothache.
But if you are a lover of Indian food, hopefully cloves will make you think of the warming flavour they add to many Indian dishes and drinks.
Cloves come from the flower buds of an evergreen – called a clove tree – which is part of the myrtle family. When the flower buds change from green to dark red, this signals they are ready to harvest. The buds are dried and turn from red to dark brown, transforming them into the spice we use in our kitchens.
Cloves are highly aromatic and are used to create depth of flavour in Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine. Zanzibar is the largest global producer of the spice, but cloves are also grown in a number of other countries. In India the spice is cultivated in the southern-most states, including Kerala.
Cloves are known in India as laung (Hindi), lavang (Punjabi) and labang (Gujurati). In households across India, cloves are mainly used during the winter months and are used either whole or ground to flavour a range of Indian dishes including biryani, curries, soups, pilafs and rice. Whole cloves are not eaten and are removed from a dish before being served – even after intense cooking they retain their hard, woody texture and their taste is overpowering.
Cloves also make up part of several masala powders, including garam masala. The combination of spices used in garam masala depends on the region of India – and the individual family. Families generally have their own blend of the powder, which has been passed down the generations. Cloves are also a key ingredient in masala chai (spiced tea).
In India, cloves have been used for thousands of years – and not just for cooking. They are traditionally used to freshen breath and according to Ayurveda, cloves improve your digestion, circulation and metabolism. Clove oil is also used to make some toothpastes.
The intense taste and flavour of cloves is due to the 85% concentration of eugenol in the spice. Eugenol is responsible for producing the perfumed smell of pomanders, adding to the comforting warmth of a mulled wine and creating an anaesthetic effect while you wait for a dentist appointment. It is also why so many people love the rich, spicy warmth of so many curries.
If you haven’t had time to visit your local Indian restaurant in a while then why not treat yourself with a trip to London to one of the capital’s best fine-dining Indian restaurants? Cloves will certainly feature in a number of recipes and we promise you, there won’t be a dentist in sight.