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Have a toothache, bad breath, and bland food? Nothing a clove can’t fix.

One of the most recognizable spices with its distinct shape, it’s no mystery why the word clove is derived from the Latin word for nail. This nail-shaped spice is actually an unopened flower bud from an evergreen tree.

The source of the clove tree, like the nutmeg tree, was a mystery for thousands of years. It was kept secret by the sheer distance and remoteness of a few tiny islands making up part of the Maluku Islands, otherwise known as the “Spice Islands” in Indonesia. It’s amazing that cloves originating there had already reached the Middle East four thousand years ago!

Two thousand years ago, the Emperor of China must have despised workers with bad breath since many of them chewed on cloves before daring to speak with him. Or maybe they all had toothaches? The essential oil in clove acts as a strong antiseptic and pain reliever that many people still use today to treat a sore tooth.

But like any spice, the best use for clove is in cooking. It has a warm, sweet, and intense flavor. Without the key ingredient of clove, there wouldn’t be masala tea (chai), garam masala, Vietnamese Poh, Chinese Five-Spice, Easter hams, and many Christmas desserts.

Intense may be an understatement though. Bite into a clove and you’ll know why.

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