WHAT IS IT?
Ground bay leaf is really more of an ingredient to add to meat rubs, or other applications where you want bay flavor, but you’re not putting it into a stew or sauce or ragoût where the flavor can emerge from the extraction of the bay leaf’s essential oils, and then be removed whole. If you wonder what bay ground would do in a spice blend, grab a little Old Bay® seasoning.
You can crush your own, but, if you’re making a volume rub, this product produces a more even, consistent result quickly.
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, known 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.). Ground, they are a subtle fragrant for other spice blends.
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:
- Mediterranean – The one you will taste here. Beautiful old-world round happiness;
- Californian – A bigger more peppery flavor for the California riff on bay. The leaves are thinner. Use them more sparingly, as they have more of the essential oils.
- Indian bay is different. A member of the cinnamon family, it has a fragrance and taste like cinnamon cousin cassia bark, but milder. If trying to emulate this flavor with one of the others, smaller leaves and a pinch of Saigon Cinnamon work just fine,.
- Indonesian is pretty much a domestic product, used mostly on meats.
- West Indian is used culinarily in a little of the more innovative jerk, lots of bean and legume dishes and a men’s cologne more popular in the late 19th to mid 20th century, Bay Rum.
- Mexican – More mellow than the Californian, it’s the exception to the eat-it-fresh rule. Used in pork for tacos it can bring badass bay bang to the Baja.
- In seasoning blends for seafood, fries, and more;
- Creole seafood dishes and gumbos
- Fragrant for teas
- Eastern European stews
- Adding depth to bean dishes in Brazil
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Part of my seasoning for Sous Vide Egg White Crab Bites
- Fragrant for herbal ice cream;
- Secret weapon in Savory Shrimp Salad
- A light sprinkle adds savory pop to garlic bread
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.
- California laurel
- Oregon myrtle
- Cinnamon bush
- Headache tree
- Mountain laurel
- Balm of heaven
- Sthala upasāgarīẏa pātā
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