Cloves are a spice that gets a lot of use during the cold winter months and throughout the holiday season because they have a warm, peppery heat that we tend to seek out in cold weather more often than in hot weather, at least in my neck of the woods. Cloves are actually flower buds from a tree that is native to Indonesia. The buds are cut and dried until they are very hard. The dried cloves can then be used whole or ground into a powder. Cloves are often used to infuse flavor into soups, curries and marinades, and are also commonly used as a baking spice. The spice is used year-round in most parts of the world (and even in the US, though I suspect that sales are much higher around the holidays) and is a staple in a wide variety of common spice blends.
Cloves are a very aromatic spice and typically only a small quantity is needed to infuse something with clove flavor. This is similar to the way in which allspice and nutmeg – two spices that are frequently used in conjunction with cloves in my kitchen – are used. Ground cloves are readily available in supermarkets, but the powder will begin to lose its potency after about six months. A container of ground cloves should be replaced at least once a year to ensure that you get the most flavor from your spice. Whole cloves will keep well over a year, particularly if they are kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Whole cloves can be ground using a spice grinder or even using a microplane, though the tiny size of the buds means that you’ll need to be careful with your fingertips if you opt to hand-grind your spice.