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Is Clove an Herb or a Spice?

Slofoodgroup Team febrero 07, 2024

The interchangeable use of the terms "herb" and "spice" often leads to a bit of confusion on classifying specific ingredients. Cloves are one of those culinary enigmas frequently placed in the wrong culinary category.To answer whether or not cloves are herbs or spices, we must understand the differences between the two types of flavor enhancers and the defining characteristics of cloves.

Herbs vs Spices

“Herbs” and “spices” are often used synonymously, and whether or not that is correct is somewhat debatable. Even in dictionaries, the definitions are perfectly unclear as to what the division is—especially when it comes to their culinary definitions.


What is an herb?

Botanically speaking, herbs are seed producing plants that die down at the end of the season rather than producing persistent woody tissue. A more vague definition suggests any plant part with some sort of value. Culinarily speaking, however, herbs are typically considered to be the leaves or soft, flowery parts of plants. For the most part, their peak flavorful potential is found in their fresh from, but they may also be dried. Common examples of herbs include basil, parsley and, cilantro. Herbs are adored for their ability to add a burst of freshness and a pop of color to dishes.

What is a spice?

If one were to merely look for the definition of spices in a dictionary, confusion would surely arise surrounding the nature of spices. Broadly defined as any edible part of a vegetable used to add flavor or aroma, spices could be literally any ingredient sourced from a plant, but that is not actually the case.. It is true that spices, can come from any edible vegetative species but, they are not necessarily a vegetable. The are typically obtained from parts of plants aside from the leaves—seeds, bark, roots, or fruits. They are known for their ability to add depth and complexity to dishes. Popular examples of spices include cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and nutmeg. Unlike herbs, spices are often more pungent and intense, elevating the overall flavor profile of a dish and favor depth over freshness.

What are Cloves?

What part of a plant does a clove come from?

Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tropical evergreen tree. The clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum) produces small, brown, rail-spike-shaped buds with slightly bulbous tops. They are harvested before they bloom and dried before use.

This is where it gets confusing. The bud is technically a flower so one might believe it to be an herb, but because clove buds have not bloomed at the time of their harvest, they are considered to be a spice.

Flavor of Cloves and How They are Used

Cloves are aromatic and flavorful, known for their potency and a sweet yet spicy flavor. They contain a compound called eugenol, which contributes to their distinctive taste and aroma and adds to their medicinal and culinary desireability.

Cloves are employed in both sweet and savory dishes. While in the US, they are most commonly known for their use in baked goods like pumpkin pie and gingerbread, or in hot beverages like spiced ciders, globally, they are primarily utilized in savory braises, stews, and dry-spice blends for meats and vegetables. They are a key ingredient in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines, adding depth and warmth to curries and rice dishes.

Cloves are a spice with a global reputation for adding depth to everything from sweet to savory. They are beloved for contributing warmth, complexity, and a comforting aroma, all of which are best experienced from the use of whole cloves that are either added directly to liquids for infusion or ground immediately before use. In our online shop, you can find whole cloves hand-picked from Sri Lankan rainforests, ensuring each tiny bud is of the highest quality, which will be reflected in the dishes you make.