Why are cloves so expensive?

Welcome to the brilliantly named Tolitoli, a tropical rain forest regency of central Sulawesi, Indonesia. It’s often the first stop from Kalimantan to Sulawesi for many sailors. But this gem is rarely visited by tourists, and we think they’re missing out!

According to folk legend, the name Tolitoli comes from the word totolu, meaning three, and the Tolitoli nation came from three gods who arrived on earth through the Golden Bamboo, the Langsat Peak Tree, and Ue Saka (a kind of rattan).


While “The Three” feature throughout Tolitoli, we saw more cloves, nutmegs and coconuts than anything else.

The harvesting of cloves is a skill. The tree branches are delicate, making them dangerous to climb, and each bud must be separated by hand. Whole families work together during the harvest. These two reasons alone help to explain the high price of this much sought-after spice.

There were cloves drying on tarps along the roads within and around Tolitoli, and we were taken to see the trees growing in plantations which blanketed the hills. In once place Liz was presented with a nearly-ripe pineapple, picked in front of her from underneath the trees.

Liz had a go at separating the buds from the branches (did you know cloves are buds?) which turned out to be more fiddly than we had every imagined.

We were lucky enough to see the entire process when we visited a factory warehouse on the seafront where the cloves are processed and made ready to ship to the India. It’s also where nutmegs are brought by the villagers for processing and where the mace is separated from the nut.

Spider boats
Why are cloves so expensive?

Spider boats from the drone

We came to know these fishing vessels as spider boats. The smaller canoe versions are called jukung, but they come in many different sizes. The larger ones are made up of complex rigging.

Are they monohulls or trimarans? You decide.

why are cloves so expensive

Jamie and Spiders from Tolitoli

Dockside Fish Restaurants

As well as cloves, Sulawesi has a large fish and coconut industry and the two are combined in the seafood restaurants.

After picking out your own fish, the chef will BBQ it on a fire of coconut husk. The food is simple (fish, rice and vegetables) but smoked over the BBQ’d husks, it is absolutely delicious.

why are cloves so expensive

Liz getting excited about choosing her fish

Share this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *