Clove Substitutes

Cloves, the aromatic flower buds derived from the clove tree, are a staple in a variety of culinary traditions around the world. Renowned for their intensely warm, sweet, and slightly bitter flavor, cloves can be used whole or ground to impart a distinctive warmth to both sweet and savory dishes. The pungent aroma and flavor profile of cloves make them an integral component in spice blends, baked goods, and many traditional recipes.

However, there are times when you might find yourself out of cloves while cooking or baking. In such situations, there are several substitutes available that can mimic the characteristic flavor of cloves to some extent. Cardamom, for example, with its citrusy undertones, can provide a similar warming sensation when used in conjunction with other spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. Allspice is another alternative that closely replicates the flavor of cloves due to its combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, and peppery notes. When making substitutions, consider the flavor compatibility with your recipe to achieve a balanced taste.

Understanding Cloves

Understanding Spices: Cloves

Cloves, the flower buds of the evergreen tree Syzygium aromaticum, are indispensable in both sweet and savory dishes. Their intense aroma and flavor are vital in various cuisines across the globe.

Culinary Uses of Cloves

Cloves can be found in two forms: whole and ground. Whole cloves are often used to infuse flavor into meats, soups, and stews, acting as a robust spice that’s removed before serving. Ground cloves, on the other hand, are commonly used in baking, particularly in sweet dishes and winter spice blends. They’re a key ingredient in spice mixes such as pumpkin pie spice and garam masala.

  • Sweet Dishes: You’ll often find ground cloves in recipes for gingerbread cookies, pumpkin pie, and other baking treats where they bring a warm, spicy-sweet flavor.
  • Savory Dishes: Cloves are used in a variety of meat dishes, including braised beef or pork recipes, where their aromatic qualities complement the natural flavors of the meat.

Historical Significance and Origin

Cloves are native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, but today they are cultivated in numerous countries including Madagascar, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. However, it’s China that’s documented to have used cloves for over 2,000 years, not only for cooking but also in traditional medicine and as a preservative.

Historical Uses:

  • In the past, cloves were extremely valuable and played a significant part in global trade.
  • The Latin word clavus, meaning ‘nail,’ gives cloves their name, referring to their distinct nail-like shape.

Choosing Clove Substitutes

When selecting a substitute for cloves, you must take into account the unique warm and sweet flavor profile that cloves impart to dishes. Your choice of substitute will differ based on whether you’re baking or preparing savory items.

Flavor Profile Considerations

Cloves possess a distinctive sweet yet spicy flavor that is essential in many spice blends, including pumpkin pie spice and apple pie spice. When searching for a clove substitute, aim for a spice that offers a warm flavor that complements the dish without overpowering it.

Substitute Options for Baking

For baking applications, such as gingerbread or pies, you want a substitute that mirrors the sweet and aromatic qualities of cloves.

  • Cinnamon: A common baking spice with a warm, sweet profile perfect for apple pie.
  • Nutmeg: Another sweet spice, used often in conjunction with cinnamon and cloves.
  • Pumpkin pie spice: A blend including cinnamon and nutmeg, captures the spirit of cloves in baked goods.
  • Allspice: Offers a flavor reminiscent of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon rolled into one.

Substitute Options for Savory Dishes

In savory dishes like soups, curries, and meat dishes, a clove substitute should enhance the dish without dominating it.

  • Cardamom: While cardamom has a unique flavor, it works well in sauces and marinades.
  • Cumin: Offers a different flavor dimension to savory dishes where clove’s warmth is desired.
  • Chinese five-spice mix: This blend often contains star anise, which can replicate the complex flavor profile of cloves in savory dishes.

Substitutes for Whole Cloves

Whole cloves are often used for their decorative appeal as well as their flavor, such as studing an orange for decoration and aroma.

  • Star anise: Its star-shaped form can serve as a visual alternative for presentation purposes.
  • Bay leaves: While not similar in flavor, they can impart a similar aromatic quality in soups and marinades when whole cloves are unavailable.

Popular Clove Substitutes

When you’re out of cloves, several spices can mimic their warm, aromatic flavor in dishes ranging from savory entrees to sweet desserts. Here’s a rundown of alternatives that confidently stand in for cloves.


Nutmeg is a quintessential warm spice with a sweet profile, ideal for pumpkin pie and rice pudding. Remember, it’s potent, so use it sparingly in comparison to cloves.


Cinnamon brings a similar sweetness to dishes and is perfect for fall treats like mulled wine and gingerbread cookies. Use it in a 1:1 ratio when substituting for ground cloves.


Allspice berries have a composite flavor resembling a blend of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This makes allspice an excellent one-for-one substitute for cloves. It complements meat, soups, and stews.


Cardamom adds a slightly sweet, floral note to Indian food and works as a clove substitute in recipes that welcome a twist of complex flavors. It is available in both pod and ground form.

Star Anise

Featuring a licorice-like flavor, star anise is a component of Chinese five-spice powder and matches the essence of cloves in Chinese cuisine, making it an intriguing alternative.

Ground Peppercorns

For a less sweet and more piquant substitute, grounded white or black peppercorns fit savory dishes. Start with a modest amount and adjust according to your taste.


Mace, the outer covering of the nutmeg seed, shares a similar taste profile to cloves within warm spices. It’s particularly good for baking and in hot beverages like chai.


Ginger offers a different kind of warmth with a zesty kick. It’s a great substitute in baked goods and is often used in concert with other spices to mimic the multifaceted flavor of cloves.

Fennel Seeds

With their anise-like quality, fennel seeds can be used in place of cloves, especially in sausage making and other savory dishes where a subtle sweetness is desired.

Other Substitutes

For a varied flavor profile, consider using blends like pumpkin pie spice mix or Chinese five-spice powder. Cumin may also replace cloves for a completely different flavor dimension in your dish.

How to Use Substitutes Effectively

When cooking or baking, the right substitutes can save a dish. It’s crucial to understand how substitutes impact flavor and how to measure them correctly.

In Cooking and Baking

Substitutes can replicate the warm, spicy notes of cloves in your dishes while bringing in their own unique undertones. For savory recipes, such as meats, soups, and sauces, you want a substitute that can withstand long cooking times without losing its flavor. In sweet dishes, like pies, a substitute should complement the other ingredients.

  • Nutmeg: A potent choice for sweet applications, use sparingly to not overwhelm.
  • Cinnamon: Offers a sweeter note, ideal for both savory and sweet dishes.
  • Allspice: Works well in both contexts and offers a similar flavor profile to cloves.

You may also consider grinding whole substitutes fresh for a more potent flavor in your cooking.

Substitute Ratios and Measurements

The key to successful substitution is using the correct ratios to achieve a desired flavor. Here’s a simple guideline:

SubstituteRatio to ClovesBest Used In
Nutmeg1:4Baked goods
Cinnamon1:1General Purpose
Allspice1:1General Purpose
  • If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of ground cloves, use 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, or 1 teaspoon of allspice.
  • If using in meat dishes, remember that subtle spices might get lost, so opt for bolder substitutes like allspice or a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Ground substitutes are often stronger than whole ones; adjust quantities accordingly if you grind your own.

Purchasing and Storing Substitutes

When searching for clove substitutes, it’s crucial to know where to buy them and how to store them to maintain their flavor and potency.

Finding Substitutes Online or Locally

You can find clove substitutes such as nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, or cardamom at most grocery stores, including international markets which often offer a wider variety. For convenience, online spice retailers are an excellent resource to purchase high-quality substitutes, often in both whole and ground forms. Create a list of credible online spice shops and check whether they provide product origin information, which is a good indicator of quality.

  • Local Stores: Look for substitutes in the spice aisle of local supermarkets or in nearby international grocery stores.
  • Online: Reputable online vendors often stock a variety of substitutes; ensure they have positive customer reviews and offer high-quality, fresh spices.

Shelf Life and Optimal Storage

The shelf life of clove substitutes varies, but most will retain their potency for about one to three years if stored properly. To preserve their flavors, store your spices in airtight containers away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Your spice rack should be in a cool, dark place like a pantry or a cupboard, not above the stove.

  • Whole Spices: Longer shelf life, typically about three to four years.
  • Ground Spices: Best used within two years; they lose flavor faster than whole spices.

By securing your substitutes from reputable sources and storing them correctly, you can ensure your spice rack is always stocked with flavorful alternatives to cloves.


When your pantry lacks cloves, or you prefer to experiment with other flavors, numerous spices can serve as adequate substitutes. Your choice will depend on the specific taste profile you want to achieve.

  • Cinnamon: Offers sweetness with a warm note, making it suitable for baked goods.
  • Allspice: Imparts a peppery zest, a versatile stand-in for cloves in savory and sweet dishes.
  • Nutmeg: Brings a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, best used in moderation.
  • Mace: Provides a subtler version of the same qualities found in nutmeg.
  • Cardamom: Adds a unique, aromatic touch to desserts and savory recipes.
  • Star Anise: Contributes a licorice-like essence, ideal for Asian cuisine.
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice: A ready mix that captures the essence of cloves in fall-themed recipes.
  • Chinese Five-Spice: A potent blend that combines several complementary flavors.
  • Clove Liquid Extract: Use sparingly to imitate clove’s intensity in various dishes.

Your choice of substitute should reflect the flavor complexity of cloves and adapt well to the specificities of your recipe. The joy of cooking includes the opportunity to explore and savor the alternatives, enhancing your dishes while maintaining the integrity of the flavors. Trust your palate and remember that the end goal is to create a dish that is delightful and satisfying.

Frequently Asked Questions

When cooking, it’s not uncommon to find yourself missing an ingredient like cloves. This section provides straightforward answers to common questions about replacing cloves in various dishes.

What can I use as a replacement for clove when cooking?

If you’re out of cloves, you can use nutmeg, allspice, or cinnamon as a substitute. The ratio for substitution is typically 1:1, but you may need to adjust according to taste.

How can I substitute cloves in sweet baking recipes?

Cinnamon and nutmeg work well as substitutes for cloves in sweet dishes. Mix them with a bit of sugar to compensate for any flavor differences.

What is an appropriate substitute for cloves in curry dishes?

In curry dishes, try using a mix of cumin and allspice to replicate the warm, slightly sweet flavor of cloves.

Which spice is the closest in flavor to cloves for use in ham dishes?

For ham dishes, allspice is your best bet when you don’t have cloves. It brings a similar warm and sweet note to your recipes.

Can ground cloves be replaced by whole cloves, and if so, in what ratio?

Yes, ground cloves can replace whole cloves. Use 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves for every whole clove that your recipe requires.

What other spices could mimic the taste of cloves in pumpkin pie?

For pumpkin pie, a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger can produce a flavor profile reminiscent of cloves. Use these spices in a mix to achieve the desired taste.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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