In summary: There are 5 substitutes for cloves in cooking: allspice, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg-cinnamon blend, mace, and cardamom. Each substitute offers a warm and aromatic flavor that can replace cloves in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
The rich taste of cloves adds a sense of warmth and comfort to a variety of sweet and savory dishes. The spice is used worldwide in curries, stews, and meat dishes. However, many people associate the mention of cloves with holiday winter warming recipes such as Christmas ham, mulled apple cider, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, turkey, spiced cakes, and gingerbread cookies.
Clove is a powerful spice and a little goes a long way. Leaving it out of your recipe entirely just won’t yield the same comforting holiday flavor. If your recipe calls for cloves, and you don’t have any, there are a few great substitutes you can use to fill the gap.
In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best substitutes for whole and ground cloves according to the dish you are preparing.
What Are Cloves?
Whole cloves come from a clove tree. They are flower buds that look like small nails or pins. Its name comes from the Latin word for nail, clavus. The French word for nail, clou, is similar.
Whole cloves are dark brown and very fragrant. The sweet, warm, and spicy flavor of cloves pairs well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, and citrus.
Pulverizing the dried nail-like buds forms clove powder, which should be used in small amounts.
Whole cloves are used to impart flavor into dishes and are always removed before serving. They should not be eaten or bitten into. Clove powder is incorporated into batters, pie fillings, and curries.
5 Best Replacements for Ground and Whole Cloves
Whether you are out of cloves, or just don’t love the flavor, these clove substitutes provide a comparable warmth with a slightly different aroma that won’t harm the integrity of your dish.
Although the name suggests that allspice is a blend of spices, it is in fact, a single spice.
Allspice berries (from the allspice tree) look almost like peppercorns. They are dried and ground to make this warm spice. The flavor is reminiscent of a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. These three spices are often combined in specific quantities to make an allspice alternative.
When using ground allspice in baked dishes such as cakes or cookies, the difference will hardly be noticeable.
Best used in: Apple pie, split pea soup, spicy marinades, apple spice cake, pickling, and curry.
Substitute quantity: Use an equal amount of allspice instead of cloves. For increased spice flavor you can add a pinch extra. Although allspice is strong, it is not as potent as clove.
See more: Allspice replacement
2. Pumpkin Pie Spice
Pumpkin pie spice, also called pumpkin spice, is a blend of spices including ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice.
Pumpkin pie spice is the perfect replacement for cloves in creamy pumpkin soups and pies. It is a good way to get clove flavor if you do not have a separate bottle of cloves. Although its name suggests that it’s a spice mainly for pie, pumpkin spice is ideal to use in sweet and savory recipes.
Best used in: Soups, stews, chicken dishes, meat dishes, marinades, pies, and pumpkin bread.
Substitute quantity: Use an equal amount of pumpkin spice instead of cloves.
3. Nutmeg Cinnamon Blend
A fifty-fifty blend of ground nutmeg and cinnamon replicate the aroma and taste of cloves perfectly for baked goods.
Best used in: Stewed apples, apple dumplings, apple pie, spiced cakes, soups, and stews.
Substitute quantity: Use the same quantity of nutmeg-cinnamon blend as you would cloves in your recipe.
Related: Substitute for nutmeg
Mace is the outer membrane found on nutmeg and therefore has a similar flavor to nutmeg spice. It adds great warmth to recipes in the same way that cloves do. Mace bridges the sweet-savory gap well and is suitable for baking, sweet pies, and meaty dishes.
Best used in: Meat and seafood dishes, stews, soups, desserts, rice pudding, cookies, and spiced baked treats.
Substitute quantity: Start by using slightly less mace than cloves required in your dish and add to taste.
Cardamom has a strong aroma and flavor. When combined with other spices such as nutmeg or even apple pie spice, it can be a great substitute for cloves. However, you may want to keep this for when other clove substitutes are not available due to the strong and distinctive taste.
Best used in: Savory dishes such as lamb chops, marinades, seasonings, soup bases, purees, and glazed ham.
Substitute quantity: Use less cardamom than cloves required in your recipe and add to taste if necessary.
See more: Cardamom replacement
If you are spiking whole cloves into ham for baking, there is not an ideal substitute to use in the same way. You can, however, use ground cloves instead of whole cloves in any dish. Use ¾ of a teaspoon of ground cloves to substitute 1 teaspoon of whole cloves.
Star anise can be a great add-in to drinks such as mulled wine and apple cider. It is also suitable to use in curries. As with cloves, star anise should always be removed before serving the dish you are using it in. It has a licorice accent that is different from that of cloves and misses the nutty flavor. It is best to combine star anise with other spices when using it as a substitute.
Five spice powder is a mix of flavorful spices, including cloves, cinnamon, fennel, star anise, and peppercorns. Its warm and nutty taste, complemented by a bold licorice flavor, makes it a go-to for dishes with clove or fennel. The spice mixture may have an additional blend of turmeric, cardamom, and nutmeg, making it ideal for curries and rice dishes.
Spike an onion with whole cloves and add it to soups, sauces, and stews when cooking. This way there is no need to search for whole cloves before serving your dish. You can simply remove the whole onion from the liquid. For sweet syrups or drinks, you can spike orange peel in the same way, making it easy to remove before serving.
A suitable substitute for whole cloves in curry can be ground cloves or a combination of ground cinnamon and ground allspice. Start with half the amount of ground cloves or the cinnamon and allspice mixture, and adjust to taste, as ground spices can be more potent than whole cloves.
Cloves have a strong flavor, and although they add warmth and depth to sweet and savory dishes, the spice should be used sparingly. Cinnamon and allspice can be great substitutes for cloves in sweet dishes, while cardamom and mace pair well with savory dishes.
The great thing about these spices is that they can be combined to create unique flavors that complement a variety of foods whether sweet, savory, baked, or cooked on the stove. Start with small amounts when using spices and add to taste. Remember that the intensity of the flavor may change as the dish cooks.
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