Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

clove the dried, unopened flower bud of an evergreen tree, Syzygium aromaticum, which belongs to the myrtle family and is native to the Moluccas (in E. Indonesia). Cloves are an important culinary spice, mainly cultivated in Zanzibar (Tanzania), the Malagasy Republic, and Indonesia. Indonesians use over 30,000 tonnes a year in the manufacture of their ‘kretek’ cigarettes, the largest single use of cloves.

The English name is from the French clou de girofle: literally, ‘nail of clove’, referring to the shape of the dried bud, the tree being a giroflier. The similarity to a nail is also noted in the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Persian names. In Arabic individual cloves are called masamir qaranful, ‘nails of clove’, just as in French. The English mangled girofle into ‘gilofer’ and thence into ‘gilliflower’, an early name for the spice, then applied as ‘clove gilliflower’ to the clove-scented pinks growing in everyone’s garden.