Ground Cloves Vs. Whole Cloves: SPICEography Showdown

Ground cloves and whole cloves obviously have a lot in common. Whole cloves are the dried buds of the Syzygium aromaticum plant before they are powdered. They have the same flavor profile, but the act of grinding the buds to powder does dramatically alter the properties of the spice. Below, we will look at how ground cloves differ from whole cloves and how this impacts the ways that you use each.

How do ground cloves differ from whole cloves?

Like any aromatic spice, the act of grinding greatly increases the surface area. Since spices get their flavors from volatile compounds, the increased surface area means that these compounds will evaporate more quickly and cause the spice to lose its flavor. In other words, grinding cloves dramatically shortens their shelf life; ground cloves will lose their flavor faster than whole cloves.

The positive side of grinding your cloves is that it will take less time for the flavors to infuse into dishes if you use powdered cloves right after grinding them. The same processes that allow the volatile oils to evaporate into the air also enable the flavors to be released into food more quickly. To flavor a dish with whole cloves, you will need to cook it for significantly longer than ground cloves.

Ground cloves are more versatile than whole cloves since you can add them to food with no additional steps. Just sprinkle them in to get their flavor. Whole cloves are somewhat limited in how you can use them. Not only will the dish need an extended cooking time for the flavor to be released, but you will also need to remove the cloves before serving the food. Cloves are unpleasant to bite into and they present a choking hazard.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Ground cloves and whole cloves have the same flavor, so they are the best possible substitutes for each other. However, they are not perfect substitutes. Consider the fact that ground cloves won’t provide the same visual appeal in dishes.

Whole cloves are visually appealing when studded into hams, onions and other food items. Similarly, some Indian dishes require whole cloves to be tempered in oil with other spices and that oil used to flavor other dishes. You can’t use ground cloves in place of whole cloves in those dishes since it would burn too quickly.

That said, you can use ground cloves in place of whole cloves in stews and other braised dishes. Because it is a ground spice, you don’t need a bouquet garni like you do for whole cloves and you would add it later on in the cooking time.

Replacing ground cloves with whole cloves is easy since all you have to do is grind it. If you don’t have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, place a few cloves in a kitchen towel and smash them with the end of a knife handle. It is usually possible to get them fine enough with this method to make a decent ground clove substitute.

When should you use ground cloves and when should you use whole cloves?

Generally speaking, you should use ground cloves in dishes with shorter cooking times. Use whole cloves in dishes that will be cooked for longer or where the visual appeal of whole cloves is more important.