Welcome to Spice World, in which Gut Check zeroes in on overlooked spices from around the globe, introducing those you may not own -- and probably should.
History: Even Rodale's somewhat technical Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs can't contain its giddiness when it comes to describing the scent of cloves:
"Prowl around a darkened warehouse in an exotic harbor and sniff deeply.... The familiar fragrance always carries with it an air of mystery and romance."
So enchanting is the scent that if you happened to have been a Chinese courtier or government official a few thousand years ago, you'd have been required to keep cloves in your mouth when speaking to the emperor. Even today, for those of a certain age, cloves carry with them the scent of pseudo-rebellious youth, when clove cigarettes coincided with the first flirtations with pot or, perhaps, getting a tattoo.
Historically, cloves were one of the most important and valuable crops native to Indonesia's famed Spice Islands.
Today: Cloves (Latin name clavus, meaning "nail") pop up frequently in Indian cuisine as well as in traditional Greek cooking -- many baklava recipes call for a single clove stuck into the center of each triangle as the finishing touch.
In Use: Though the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act banned clove cigarettes a year and a half ago, knockoffs aren't hard to find. Alternatively, you can simmer a small handful of cloves along with a couple of bay leaves in a saucepan. (Prior to open houses, sellers have been known to whip up this mix in the hope of evoking cozy feelings.) A quick trial run revealed that it works. Nearly four hours after cloves and bay leaves were brought to a boil, the kitchen continued to smell like cinnamon and hospitality. Home sales were up nationally more than 5 percent in January. Might we have the spiky spice to thank?
We found whole cloves at Manzo's Sausage Kitchen and Market (5346 Devonshire Avenue; 314-481-5200) in a two-ounce jar for $1.79.
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