Cloves have a strong flavor and aroma that combines spicy and sweet notes–one reason why it features in both sweet and savory recipes. It’s more common in autumn and winter recipes because of this sense of “warmth” it imparts.
It’s no coincidence that the clove resembles a rose in miniature as this spice is actually the flower bud of a tree from the myrtle family (that includes the eucalyptus) and which grows mainly in Indonesia, Madagascar and Zanzibar. The bud is cut as it turns deep pink–that is, just before blossoming–and dried.
The clove has more than just culinary use and is widely used in cosmetics, especially in perfume-making and for use in room fresheners. Members of the Chinese imperial court chewed on cloves to fresh their breaths while in Greece the spice has been known at least since Hippocrates as it was a key ingredient in his elixir.
In the Greek kitchen, cloves are used in sweets, stewed fruits, beverages, but also in savory stews. In savory dishes, the clove is usually used whole while ground cloves are used mostly in sweets or cakes because of the more intense flavor.