Whole Cloves and Ground Cloves: Uses, Substitute, and More

While whole cloves and ground cloves come from the same plant, they have many different uses in the kitchen.

Cloves come from an aromatic tree native to Indonesia called Syzygium aromaticum. The clove tree produces fragrant flower buds that we call cloves. Cloves are widely cultivated throughout parts of Asia as well as South America and Africa and have been part of the spice trade for thousands of years. 

Cloves are used in various dishes, from baking (such as in pumpkin pie spice) to savory dishes (such as meat dishes and pot roasts) to chai tea and mulled wine. 

Originally Published On: May 12, 2023

What Are Cloves?

Cloves are the dried unopened buds of the evergreen trees of the same name in the Myrtle family. When using whole cloves, it is the dried bud from immature flowers. About 15-20% of the clove is essential oil, so the essential oils from cloves have been used medicinally for thousands of years as well. 

Whole cloves are mostly round in shape and have a reddish-brown color to the spike on them. They look like a small nail made out of wood. 

Cloves in their ground form come from grinding the whole cloves in a spice grinder. You will often find ground cloves in other spice blends and are often used in fall sweet dishes because of their earthy warm spice. 

​Flavor Differences Between Whole Cloves and Ground Cloves

Whole cloves and ground cloves have the same flavor. The difference comes in how they are used in cooking. The flavor of cloves has been said to be warm, earthy flavor, pungent, and slightly sweet but at the same time also bitter. 

Cloves used in their whole form need more time to infuse their flavors into a dish. That’s why you’ll often find that a recipe calls for whole cloves if they are added early in the process. 

Ground cloves tend to have a strong flavor when compared with whole cloves. Because they have been ground, they are able to infuse their flavor quicker into a dish. You’ll also find that ground cloves will sometimes change the color of food when the whole cloves wouldn’t. 

How to Substitute Whole Cloves and Ground Cloves for Each Other

While it isn’t perfect, the best substitute for cloves would be cloves in their other form. If you need whole cloves for a recipe, you can substitute them with ground cloves. One teaspoon of whole cloves would be equivalent to about 3/4 teaspoon of ground cloves. This will only work in dishes that they are added for subtle flavor, though. If you have a recipe that calls for poking the whole cloves into something, such as studding a ham, there’s not much that can be used in place of whole cloves. 

While ground cloves are the best substitute for whole cloves, there are other options. If you need ground cloves and don’t have any in the spice cabinet, the following will make a great substitute:

Just remember that even the best clove substitutes do not have the exact same flavor profile as ground cloves. As a rule of thumb, start small. For a recipe that calls for one teaspoon ground cloves, I would start with 1/2 teaspoon of the substitute spice. While they are all a similar spice, you want to make sure the new taste doesn’t overpower your recipe. 

Where to Purchase Whole Cloves and Ground Cloves

In my experience, I can find both whole cloves and ground cloves in the spice aisle of my local grocery stores. Another option is to look in your store’s ethnic cuisine area since cloves are prominent in Indian cuisine.

How to Store Cloves

As with all pre-ground spices, you’ll want to store cloves in a cool, dry location in your home. For the best flavor, make sure to check the expiration date of your cloves. 

Nutritional Information

Ground cloves have a high amount of manganese in them and also contain trace amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, and fiber. 

While cloves add great flavor to so many dishes, the only thing to consider is the health threat of too much ground cloves and clove oil. It can lead to liver failure, acute respiratory distress, and central nervous system depression. 

Medicinal Information

Cloves have been used medicinally for years. The most recent use is in dentistry as the cloves have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in toothaches. You may be able to find clove oil in the tooth care section at your local drugstore. Just keep in mind it needs to be used in small amounts and can be toxic to children. Read all instruction labels and consult a physician before use. 


Recipes Using Whole Cloves

Recipes Using Ground Cloves


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