Discover Sweet Clover

Sweet clover is a wild plant that we have all surely come across without even knowing it—either on the roadside or in a field—and which is basically our local version of vanilla. Here is some information to get you better acquainted with this ingredient.

Where does it come from?

Sweet clover (Melilotus albus) belongs to the same family as clover and grows in dry, gravelly soils. Its long spikes with tiny white flowers are grouped together and reach 150 cm in height. Sweet clover is grown as a honey plant for honey production and as a green manure to enrich soils with nitrogen.

Vanilla flavour

The delicate sweet clover flowers give off a sweet smell, attractive to bees. Once dried, they reveal their secret: an intoxicating aroma very close to that of vanilla, with notes of almond and cut hay. Hence its nickname: boreal vanilla. It is for this reason that sweet clover has found a place not only in the kitchen, but also with local beer brewers as a replacement for vanilla pods.

Is it good for me?

Coumarin is the natural compound that gives vanilla its sweet vanilla smell. It is also found in “fake” cinnamon (cassia, from the bark of the cassia tree) and in tonka beans. Coumarin can be harmful to the liver when ingested in too large quantities. If sweet clover flowers ferment during drying, they can be transformed into dicoumarol, an anticoagulant that is not without risk. However, you can rest assured; the amount used to infuse a recipe does not pose any danger.

How is it cooked?

The aromatic profile of sweet clover goes well with dairy desserts, such as cheesecake, fruits such as raspberry or pear and desserts based on chocolate or maple syrup. You can also use a few drops of sweet clover extract to flavour cocktails and sparkling water. On the salty side, surprise your guests by pairing it with seafood such as lobster and scallops.

Where to buy it and how to use it

Sweet clover is sold in liquid or powdered form in local produce shops. Powdered sweet clover is added to flour in pastry recipes. In liquid preparations, such as panna cotta or pastry cream, the powder is first infused into milk or hot cream, like a vanilla pod. It’s difficult to estimate the amount of powder to use, but 3/4 teaspoon to replace 1 teaspoon of vanilla is a good place to start. Sweet clover essence replaces vanilla extract, volume for volume.