Native to the Maluku islands (historically called the Spice islands) in Indonesia, cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of an evergreen, having large leaves and clusters of flowers. It is believed that the oldest clove tree in the world, named "Afo", is found on one of the Spice islands (Ternate) -- the tree being between 350 and 400 years old.
Today, Zanzibar is the world's largest producer of cloves after seedlings were stolen by a French man named Poivre in 1770, transferred to France, and then later to Zanzibar.
Whole cloves are a must for studding hams and flavoring stocks, hot cider and punch. The flavor is intense, so it's best used sparingly. Ground cloves are perfect for baked goods. Because cloves bring out the flavor of beef, a whole clove is great for a beef stew, and try adding a pinch of ground cloves to gravy.
In the West, cloves are mainly considered a baking spice, though their preserving qualities make them popular for pickling and barbequing.
Cloves pair well with cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, red wine and basil, as well as with uncommon combinations such as onion, citrus peel, star anise and peppercorns.
To add a little decoration to the home at the holidays, cloves can be used to stud oranges, which also leave a pleasant aroma, or you can boil the cloves on the stovetop along with orange peels for a wonderful fragrance.
Do you use cloves in your cooking? Share some of your recipes with us.
*most of the text taken from a spice catalog (Penzy's) and wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clove