Cloves would be able to replace synthetic antioxidants which are currently used to make food last longer. Photo: ALAMY
Spanish researchers discovered the spice was the best antioxidant because of the high levels of phenolic compounds it contained.
Antioxidants are crucial in keeping food fresh and the findings could have wide-ranging implications for the food industry.
They are also believed to have health benefits.
The study has been hailed as a win for the push towards more natural foods as cloves would be able to replace synthetic antioxidants which are currently used by manufacturers to make food last longer.
Professor Juana Fernández-López, from Spain's Miguel Hernández University, said cloves were a versatile spice.
"Out of the five antioxidant properties tested, cloves had the highest capacity to give off hydrogen, reduced lipid peroxidation well, and was the best iron reducer", she said.
The research study, published in the latest issue of the Flavour and Fragrance Journal, ranked the spice as the best natural antioxidant.
Prof Fernandez-Lopez said: "The results show that use of the natural oxidants occurring in spices used in the Mediterranean diet, or their extracts, is a viable option for the food industry, as long as the characteristics of the food product are not affected.
"These substances exhibit high antioxidant capacity, and could have beneficial effects for health."
The researchers also evaluated the antioxidant effect of the essential oils from other spices used in the Mediterranean diet oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage.
They were trying to find out if these spices could be used into food products, especially meat, as natural antioxidants.
Prof Fernandez-Lopez said antioxidants kept food fresh because it delayed lipid oxidation.
"Lipid oxidation is one of the main reasons for foods deteriorating, and causes a significant reduction in their nutritional value, as well as loss of taste", she said.
"These alterations lead to a reduction in the useful lifespan of the food product. To avoid such deterioration, the food industry uses synthetic antioxidants in its products.
"However, as these are chemical compounds, questions have been raised about their potential toxicity and side-effects."
Prof Fernandez-Lopez said there was a growing interest in using plant-based products with potential antioxidant activity, in order to replace the synthetic antioxidants with "natural" substances.