Bay leaves are the added aromatic “oomph” in any dish that needs a little rounding to a savory taste.
Really, until I got my first batch from Spice Jungle, I had NO IDEA why I had been putting bay leaves into sauces, on my savory bacon, etc. for years. When I opened up that first container of Spice Jungle’s hand-selected beauties I was hit by this wonderful, rich, smell.
The flavor? It’s something more like the bassist in a jazz trio. Take the sound away, and you very clearly have lost something important in the music. Bay’s contributions are similarly subtle. Bay is a culinary rhythm section flavor player. It adds roundness and fullness to all kinds of soups and stews, marinades, and is used in more coarse to fine grinds in everything from bacon cures to Old Bay seasoning. The others may lead, but, without the bay, you’ll be saying: “This is missing something…”
Bay Leaves, known in some parts of the world as laurel leaves, are aromatic leaves for their big flavor and amazing fragrance.
If eaten whole fresh, bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste, almost camphorous. (Do not eat them whole. Professional stunt foodies. Closed kitchen.).
While you’ll find fresh in some markets these days, Bay are one of the few leaves that are best used dried. It takes weeks of careful drying to lock in the essential oils and let them develop the character that is found in bay as a cooking product.
The leaf is 1.3% essential oils, 45% of which is eucalyptol, which is probably best described for anyone who likes the much more intense extract used in a Halls cough drop. The effect here is far more mild, but it is that aromatic/taste that is bay’s bottom line.
As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable than its taste at first blush, when you pull out freshly dried leaves The fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and somewhat similar to thyme and oregano. When cooked, the leaves slowly release essential oils’ eucalyptol which warms up other herbs and spices in the dish.
Spice Jungle gets their hand-picked leaves from Turkey, which are variants of the Mediterranean tree. The Laurel Bay tree is native to Asia Minor and has been cultivated since recorded history. Today’s big contenders are:
Trade routes carried the Mediterranean Laurel Bay tree to Ancient Greece and Rome, then, eventually, the New World. The tree thrives in Mediterranean climates and does not tolerate cold regions. Bay (laurel) wreaths were used to make braided wreaths for crowning champions of athletic contests and combat in ancient Greece. Bay leaves, fresh or dried, have an impressive toughness to them that was prized by the Greeks. The California and Mexican bay leaves were used medicinally by many native American groups.
Choking Hazard – Always, always count how many bay leaves you put into a dish like a soup or stew or marinara and make sure that you get all of them out when done cooking.
Bay leaves do not break down. They are an easy thing to choke on. I can attest to this as a restaurant gumbo one night almost killed me. Leaf got stuck in my windpipe and would not come out.
You don’t want to know how the doctor got it out, either. Just make sure that you keep count, and get them all into the trash when done with them.
If you are putting them in a rub, make sure that your grind is fine enough that they will go down easily. No big pieces.
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