IT WAS one of those days when everything went wrong. I was the butt of my friend's jokes, my watch strap broke and it started to rain. Then to make it worse, my tooth began to ache. Luckily my roommate had clove oil. I took the clove oil and applied it directly on the affected part of the gum and did it burn? It really was the last straw.

But once upon a time cloves were not only the silver lining but were worth more than gold and people travelled around the world to get some. If you remember Magellan's circumnavigation of the world, he left with five ships and 250 men and though he returned with one ship and 18 men to Spain, the one ship carried 50 tonnes of cloves and it was considered to be an extremely profitable business venture.

Cloves are native to the Indonesian Islands. Although cloves made their presence in Europe in the 8th Century, they were known in China and India earlier. Cloveswere first brought into the European countries by the Venetians followed by the Portuguese and then by the Dutch.

The spice made the traders of all these countries extremely rich. In fact, in the early part of the 19th Century even the Americans got into the act. They had superior sailboats and managed to beat the competition. Clove was then cultivated in many parts of Africa such as Madagascar and Zanzibar and even today form the main exports from there.

The word clove comes from the Latin word `clavus' which means a nail. With a head and a tapering shaft it can be understood why it acquired its name. There is an interesting story about a gentleman called Ebihu Yale who was born in 1649 who was a spice trader. He is supposed to have built a considerable fortune trading this spice. He is supposed to have contributed in setting up an educational institution in Connecticut which went on to become the famous Yale University as we know it today.

The clove has many medicinal properties. It contains Eugenol which is said to be a very effective local anaesthetic. The use of clove oil in Dentistry is also well-known. The population of Indonesia is known to smoke cigarettes called Kreteks which are flavoured with cloves. In fact they are so popular that in spite of being the original clove country they have to import the spice to keep up to the demands of Kreteks.

In the kitchen, of course, you are well aware of the use of cloves in curries and vindaloos. Cloves are also used in flavouring meats such as ham. It is also an important spice of Worchestershire sauce. In fact, it is used even in desserts. One I like is called Lavang Latifa. Use the flavour this month.

Keep sending in your questions to


Recommended for you