Clove brings out India’s special connection with spice. And with love
Clove was toothache cure in mother’s kitchen, mystery and delight added to kahwa tea. There is a lot more to this aromatic than meets the eye.
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Clove is a chameleon. A mistress of multiplicity. Where others go by three names, clove goes by 10. She is a multi-profiled deity of the masala dabba.
It’s easy to pin clove to that distinctive club shape. It's much more complex to refine is her nose.
For my Australian friends, clove is Christmas, the spice forming a visual crown of thorns atop a brined and glazed Christmas ham.
Cloves: A crown atop Christmas festive food. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
For my Indian friends, clove is the aroma of toothache: her form, an integral part of every Amma’s medicine kit when childhood toothache comes to call.
Known for her front-footed warmth in the West, clove’s more tightly held structural mystery has its power acknowledged in the East.
The East-West divide in spice wisdom is accentuated with an aromatic clove.
Ginger is warm healing everywhere. Cinnamon, the aroma of homecoming. But, as complexity in spice profile increases, emotional reference becomes more important to our understanding.
Clove’s wooded strength is a pleasantly penetrative taste of camphor when cooked through tamatar chaman. Her profile gives great texture when crushed and added with cinnamon and saffron to kahwa.
Clove is a complex flavour: Woody heat, menthol punch. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Clove in a pulao that is as festive as any Christmas ham, served topped with slivered almonds on the occasions when sweet rice is the only appropriate plate to serve.
All of these pieces of clove that we are given to mouth and digest and imbibe, made by the hands of those who love us through the dishes that we call home. All of these memories that help us to understand the heart and the nuance of the spice we hold in our hands.
I stood my with chachi in her New Delhi kitchen not so long ago, and she asked of my spice classes, of what I teach in my small Australian town.
I explained that I spoke of spices as ‘beings’ in order to convey the might and the majesty of their role in all Indian cuisine. That in European food, it is the produce that is king. But that, in our culture, spice is the empress — and all other flavour follows.
My Indian heritage helps me cut into clove’s core in order to reveal all of her. (Photo: Author)
The latter is, agreed my chachi, a very Indian way of thinking.
And so, I use this important piece of my heritage to cut into clove’s core in order to reveal all of her.
Not just the warmth. But the wooded heat. The depth. The darker medicinal notes. Her camphor. That menthol finish. Her last-gasp bitter pungency.
With this knowledge, I make clove beautiful.