With the changing leaves and smell of fall in the air, that means one thing: pumpkin spice time! But do you know what spices are actually used in this iconic mix?
Aside from cinnamon and ginger, the other spice that gives this blend its distinctive taste is clove.
This spice is the flowering bud from the clove tree and it looks like a small little stem with a rounded bulb at the end.
It has a very pungent and strong smell and flavor, so a little goes a long way when you’re using this spice in the kitchen.
If you want to get the freshest, best flavor from your cloves, then I highly recommend freshly grinding your cloves at home.
The act of grinding releases the volatile oils and if you buy pre-ground spices, they can dissipate, leaving you with a less potent and delicious spice.
So, how do you grind cloves? You can either use a dedicated spice grinder or coffee grinder, you can get a milling/grinding attachment for your bullet blender, or you can go old school and use a mortar and pestle to grind your cloves by hand for the freshest tasting spice you can get.
Keep reading to discover more about where cloves come from, whether you can eat them whole, how to properly grind them, the best ways to use cloves, and a recipe for your own pumpkin spice mix.
What Are Cloves?
With the fall chill in the air and pumpkin spice everything on the menu, you might be curious about what gives this blend its distinctive taste and smell.
Well, one of the key ingredients in pumpkin spice mix is clove, so before we learn how to grind our own, let’s learn a little about what cloves are.
This spice is super strong and pungent and is often combined with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to create a warming and comforting blend for baked goods and drinks.
If you’ve never seen a full clove bud before it looks like a brownish short stem with a little rounded bulb at the end, about 1 cm total.
Cloves are technically the flower bud from an evergreen tree called the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum). They are typically harvested before they mature, and then they are dried out to get the spice that you would recognize at the store.
Cloves are native to Indonesia, especially a small chain of islands that were called the Spice Islands and which are now a part of Indonesia. They also grown in India and Madagascar and now can be found in Mexico, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
Historians say that cloves have been cultivated for use as a spice since at least 200BC, making them an ancient and delicious addition to any meal.
The flavor of cloves is distinct; you won’t find any spices that taste quite the same on the market. It has a super-strong flavor that comes from a volatile oil compound called eugenol.
This molecule gives clove its pungent, slightly sweet, slightly bitter, and mildly astringent (drying) taste.
Besides its use as a culinary spice, the healing powers of clove have been used to reduce gum and tooth pain and improve bad breath.
The compounds in this spice are antibacterial and can prevent the development of pathogenic bacteria in the mouth.
As you can see, cloves are a wonderful spice with an interesting history and unique flavor that makes them a perfect addition to your spice cabinet.
Can You Eat Whole Cloves?
In lots of dishes, you might find that they call for whole cloves, especially if you cook a lot of Indian or Sri Lankan curries.
However, while these spices add a great layer of flavor to the dishes, they should not be eaten whole, even once they are cooked.
The texture of cloves is still woody and unpleasant, even when it’s cooked, which makes biting into one not the most pleasant experience.
The flavor is also super concentrated and can completely blow out your palate. I’ve even found that when I’ve accidentally bitten into a clove my mouth feels a little numb afterwards.
That can be great if you have gum or tooth pain, but not so great when you’re trying to enjoy a delicious meal.
To avoid the unpleasant texture and overpowering taste, I recommend you never eat a clove whole.
If you want to really add the full flavor to your dish, then your best bet is to grind your cloves into a fresh powder that you can use in your dish and consume without having to pick it out after.
How To Grind Cloves With A Spice or Coffee Grinder
There are lots of ways you can grind cloves, but the quickest and easiest is definitely by using a spice or coffee grinder, since they are designed to grind up small beans and seeds.
If you are using a coffee grinder, I suggest having one dedicated solely to spices since the volatile oils in the spices can be released and sink into the grinder.
That means they can transfer to your coffee beans and add some flavor that you might not enjoy.
To grind your cloves in your coffee or spice grinder you will want to measure out at least a tablespoon so that the grinder has something to work with. Follow these steps for the best results:
- Measure out at least 1 tablespoon of cloves.
- Place them into your coffee or spice grinder.
- Seal the grinder with the lid and then turn it on. I like to give my grinder a little shake while it’s buzzing to get the spices moving around for an even grind.
- Once it looks like the cloves have broken down, turn off the grinder.
- Remove the lid from the grinder and get a small, fine-mesh sieve.
- Pour the spices through the sieve into a bowl or onto a plate so that any large chunks get separated out.
- You can add any large chunks back to the spice grinder and repeat steps 3-6 until you have a fine powder.
- Store in an airtight jar and use within 3-6 months for optimal freshness.
It’s pretty quick and simple to grind your whole cloves in a spice or coffee grinder. You can then use them fresh in any recipe that calls for ground cloves.
How To Grind Cloves In A Mortar And Pestle
When I was younger, I always loved playing with the mortar and pestle at my grandmother’s house. She’d let me crush random things I found in the garden, herbs, spices, and anything else that caught my youthful eye.
Well, before the advent of coffee and spice grinders, people used a mortar and pestle to grind their grains and whole spices. And before that they used rocks, but we won’t go back that far.
A mortar and pestle can come in any size and can be made out of a variety of materials, though many are from hard woods, ceramics, metal, or hard stones such as granite.
I prefer a marble or granite mortar and pestle personally, but you can choose your favorite material.
They are made up of two parts which includes a thick and heavy bowl that is often smooth on the inside and a small, club-shaped pestle.
Together they give you the ability to grind down herbs, spices, and grains. You can also crush nuts or pound garlic, chilies, and ginger into paste.
If you’ve never bought a mortar and pestle before, then you will want to look for one that is roughly six inches in diameter and around three inches deep. This size is a good starting point and will allow you to do a lot of creating in the kitchen.
To grind cloves in a mortar and pestle, follow these steps:
- Measure out 1 tsp or more of your whole clove buds. You want to have lots of room in the mortar (the bowl part), so don’t overfill it with the cloves.
- Hold the mortar in place with one hand and put the pestle in the other. Generally, your more dominant hand will hold the pestle for maximum effectiveness.
- Using your pestle, start to gently press down on the cloves in the bottom of the mortar to begin breaking them apart. You can lightly tap them with the pestle adding a little more force as needed to start breaking them down.
- Once the clove buds begin to break down you can start pressing your pestle down more firmly and rotating in a circular direction.
- As you continuing grinding, there is a technique called the rock and smash that will help you get the best results.
- To rock: Go around the mortar with the pestle to gather any bits of clove that have climbed up the sides, gently scraping them down to the bottom as you circle the mortar.
- To smash: Push the clove pieces into the middle and bear down.
- Continue to rock and smash until you get a fine powder and there are no more large chunks of cloves left in the mix.
- If you want a smooth mix, you can place a small, fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and dump the ground cloves through, shaking the sieve to help the pieces pass through.
- If there are any large pieces of clove left, pop them back in the pestle and rock and smash them until they are broken down.
- Place the ground cloves into an airtight container. Label the container with the contents and the date that you ground them and use the spice within 3-6 months.
How To Grind Cloves In A Blender
Another option for grinding cloves is to use a blender. However, most blenders don’t have the right kinds of blades to grind seeds, spices, and grains, so you want to look for one that has a flat blade grinding attachment.
Many of the bullet-style blenders come with a grinding attachment and small container that you can dedicate to the process, so if you didn’t want to have multiple kitchen gadgets, I would suggest picking up one of these.
To properly grind your cloves in a blender, follow these instructions:
- Make sure you have a grinding blade attached to the blender base.
- Add 1 tablespoon or more of clove buds to the canister.
- Attach the canister to the grinding blade and place it on the blender base.
- Turn on the blender and watch it grind until it looks like all the large chunks have been broken down.
- Find a small, fine-mesh sieve and place it over a bowl.
- Open the blender canister and pour the ground cloves into the sieve.
- Shake the sieve to pass the cloves through and put any large chunks back in the blender, repeating steps 3-7 until most of the cloves are fully ground. Discard any last small pieces that don’t fit through the sieve.
- Store in an airtight container for 3-6 months. You might want to write the date and contents on a label so you know how long your ground cloves will be fresh.
What Are Some Great Ways To Use Cloves?
Thanks to their warming sensation and delicious flavor, cloves work in all dishes from sweet to savory.
Because the flavor is so strong, a little bit goes a long way so you will want to start with a pinch and add more as needed, tasting a long the way.
Some of my favorite ways to use cloves include:
- In a garam masala mix to make delicious curries
- As a component of a pumpkin spice/pie mix
- Ground and sprinkled over a mug of eggnog
- Adding a pinch to gingerbread cookies
- In a meat rub for pork dishes- I like to add cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, thyme, mustard powder, sea salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- As a spice in roasted ham
- As a component in pickling spices
- As a spice in mulled wine, apple cider, or chai
- Throw cloves in your poaching liquid to make the most decadent poached pears and apples
Homemade Pumpkin Spice Mix
If you are a fan of the classic pumpkin spice flavor, I highly recommend you try making your own mix using fresh ground cloves.
The taste will be on a whole other level and you can use it in your baking, smoothies, lattes, coffees, and anything else you want to bring some seasonal fun to.
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/4 tablespoon fresh ground cloves
- 1/8 to 1/4 tablespoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tablespoon allspice
- Combine all the spices in a small bowl, mixing them together completely.
- Once mixed, use a funnel to transfer them to a small jar or airtight container.
- Write the date and contents on a small label or piece of masking tape.
- Place in the cupboard and use within 3-6 months for optimum freshness.