The buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree, known as cloves, make an excellent flavor-giving spice. With a varied mineral profile, cloves help improve overall health and support digestion by increasing the secretion of gastrointestinal enzymes. Moreover, they are said to be efficient against intestinal worms and alleviate flatulence. But more important, they boast unparalleled antioxidant properties, protecting us from free radical damage and chronic disease.
Overall, cloves make a great culinary spice, provided they are used with moderation. The spice owes most of its health benefits to a unique blend of aromatic compounds such as eugenol and kaempferol. Research shows most of the flavor-giving compounds in the plant have impressive antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, even antiviral and antifungal effects, as well as antiproliferative and anticarcinogenic properties.
Cloves are an interesting-looking spice in the sense that they look very much like 2 cm dried dark brown sticks with a sort of bulb at one end. One can go as far as saying that cloves look like little wizard staffs or wizard sticks. Cloves go extremely well in marinade and meat-based dishes and pair wonderfully with pumpkin, pears or lemon. They are also popular in combinations with orange or lemon peel, cinnamon, black peppercorns and basil due to a varied essential oil profile. Because of their sweetness, they combine well with sweet vegetables such as carrots.
Cloves boast a sweet, floral scent which is why they are often used to spice up herbal tea. But more important, cloves are believed to have an amazing antioxidant activity, outranking all other spices. According to the ORAC classification, these sweet-scented dried flower buds are thought to be the ultimate antioxidant food and consumption is highly recommended.
Antioxidants in food protect us from free radicals, reactive oxygen molecules which damage cells and ultimately cause chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, neurological disease and so on. Cloves are said to provide unparalleled antioxidant protection, as long as they are consumed in low amounts (a pinch of ground cloves here, a pinch there). An excessive intake can cause too much aromatic compounds to accumulate in the body and potentially exhibit toxic effects.
Cloves owe their sweet aroma to a rich essential oil palette: eugenol, beta-caryophyllene, vanillin, crategolic acid. Triterpenoids in cloves include: oleanolic acid, stigmasterol and campesterol, all potent anticancer, antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering agents.
Tannins in cloves include: gallic acid, methyl salicylate. Gallic acid boasts impressive antiviral and astringent properties and, according to researchers, it may prove a powerful tool in the fight against cancer due to its deadly toxic effects on cancer cells alone.
Flavonoids: eugenin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, eugenitin. Kaempferol is currently under intense study for its potent anticancer properties. Numerous studies suggest that kaempferol is efficient in preventing tumor growth and metastasis of breast, ovarian, stomach and pancreas cancers.
As a side note, here is a list of accessible kaempferol-rich foods: blackberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, grapes, spinach, tomatoes, aloe vera, broccoli, cucumbers and onions. For more information on fruits and vegetables, see Foods Map in the menu above.
Aside from the antioxidant agents promoting anticancer protection, cloves offer other health benefits as well. For instance, they are said to be a great digestion aid because they promote the secretion of digestion enzymes. In addition to this, cloves alleviate constipation as well as indigestion by increasing intestinal motility. Relieving constipation also helps improve hemorrhoids symptoms.
In simple words, cloves facilitate contractions of the intestinal walls which help pass food through the intestines. Also, when the colon contracts, waste leftovers are sent out of the body, thus preventing constipation. Cloves are believed to be a great natural anti-flatulence food as well. Last but not least, eating cloves is thought to help eliminate intestinal worms.
And here is something you might find interesting: when toothpaste was not yet available for everyone, people used to suck on cloves in order to get rid of bad breath or disguise the smell of alcohol, onions and other bad mouth odors. Also, cloves as well as clove essential oil are said to help relieve toothaches.
Because they boast a good vitamin and mineral content, cloves improve our general state of health. If you take a look at the nutrition table above, you will see that they contain moderate amounts of copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, as well as vitamin C and vitamins B9 and K. Overall, they are a wonderful source of essential nutrients and one of the healthiest foods in the world due to their incredible antioxidant content.