What are Bay leaves and How to use them
Does throwing in a bay leaf in your dishes make any difference to the taste? Are they useful? It is one of those spices you will find in most kitchen cabinets but why do we use them and what are bay leaves used for? Let us find out.
You don’t need to be a spice connoisseur to know that bay leaf is well … A Leaf!
Some refer to them as laurel leaf as they come from the laurel tree.
You can also argue on whether it is a spice or a herb being a leaf so I leave that to you to decide.
You will find different bay leaf varieties depending on the type of laurel plant they originate from.
Indian bay leaves are a staple in any Indian kitchen while laurel leaves are popular in the western cuisines.
Although leaves, they primarily fall under the spice category but some also refer them to as herbs.
In this post we will discuss about the what do they do, uses of bay leaf in cooking , substitute and benefits.
What is Bay Leaves Called in Other Languages
Bay leaves in English – Laurel leaves, bay leaves, Indian bay leaves
Bay leaves in hindi – Tej patta
Bay leaves in German – Lorbeerblätter
Bay leaves French – Feuilles de laurier
Bay leaves in Spanish – Hojas de laurel
Types of Bay Leaves
Commercially bought Bay leaves come in different forms that is fresh, dry or powdered there are also different types of bay leaves varieties.
Forms of Bay Leaves
Fresh bay leaf – They are the leaves fresh off the tree so more of a herb as opposed to spice. They tend to have a stronger flavour than the dried version.
Dried bay leaves – They are the most common type of form bought and used for cooking. They are the long dried version of the fresh leaves.
Ground bay leaves – This is when dried bay leaves are ground into powder form. This form of bay leaves in not extensively used in cooking.It is mostly used for making spice blends and rubs.
Types of Bay Leaves
Apart from the forms of, there are different bay leaves varieties that can be bought in the market.
The two most commonly used bay leaves are the Turkish bay leaf and the Californian bay leaf.
Californian bay leaves is more long and darker green in colour.
Turkish bay leaves are broader and lighter yellowish green in colour.
Indian bay leaves are the most elongated with a brownish tinge.
The Californian and Turkish variety look similar but some claim that the Turkish is milder when compared to the more minty Californian bay leaves.
The once used in South Asian cuisine especially in the Indian subcontinent not only looks different but has the strongest of flavours compared to all the other varieties.
What Do Bay Leaves Taste Like
Although a popular spice to be used in cooking, the taste of bay leaves is also a debatable.
Team pro- bay leaves would say that they are a mild, fragrant aroma similar to a very mild dried mint while the anti-bay leaf team may argue that it tastes of nothing.
Whichever team to belong to, bay leaf spice in an integral part of many cuisine especially in Indian cuisine for making curries, rice and many other dry dishes.
Bay leaves both Indian and laurel are mild and aromatic spice or herb.
It is used to add fragrance to dish as opposed to any taste.
In fact it does very little to the taste and hence the debate on ‘Why do you need bay leaf at all’?’
My response to this is that you won’t miss bay leaves in a dish if you don’t add it but a good aromatic leaf does add a hint of flavour to the dish esp when cooked in broth or sauce.
In terms of the flavour they are a cross between being ever so slightly minty and woody.
Bay leaves falls into the warm/ sweet spice category.
Which means that it is a popular spice to use as a base ingredient to make spice mixes and blends.
How To Use Them for Cooking
Although the taste and flavour of the spice can be argued, there is no doubt in the many uses of bay leaves in cooking.
The use of bay leaves in cooking both Indian and laurel are the same.
Cooking with bay leaves also depends on the type of bay leaf you use.
Cooking whole bay leaves either dried or fresh is different to when you use ground bay leave.
Below are few ideas on how to use bay leaf for cooking.
- To get the best of bay leaves add them in hot oil or butter and stir it for few seconds to flavour the fat.
- You can also add whole bay leaves to boiling broth, sauce or liquid and simmer until the dish is cooked.
- You can crush or cut bay leaves into small pieces before adding them to a dish if you wish.
- It is a basic ingredient for making the base gravy of most Indian dishes. They are used to make curries, soups and stews.
- Add it to the water you use for boiling rice, lentils or legumes
- Ground bay leaves can be added to other spices for making spice rubs, blends and marinade.
How Much Bay Leaf To Use ?
Being a mild spice, you can use 2-4 whole bay leaves for making a serving of 4-6 people.
Depending on the type of bay leaves used in the recipe I suggest replacing or using the appropriate quantity:
- 1 fresh bay leaf replace with 2- 3 whole dried leaves or 1/2 tsp ground version
- 1 dried bay leaf replace with 1/4 tsp ground bay leaf or 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 tsp ground bay leaf replace with 3 dried or 1 fresh bay leaf.
Can You Eat Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves is a food grade which means it is absolutely safe for consumption.
Since the edges and the tip can be a bit pointy and sharp it is best not to eat them or bite into them as it may cut the corners of your mouth.
Besides it may also cause choking.
Whole bay leaves do not disintegrate or become soft in boiling liquid. This make it easy to scoop it out at the end of the use and before serving.
Health Benefits of Bay Leaves
There isn’t much scientific evidence to support the health benefits of bay leaves.
However it is believed that bay leaves may have some benefits.
Help in maintaining low glucose levels – Bay leaves contain polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. They are known to be effective in lowering and managing glucose levels in people with diabetes.
May help heal wounds – A research conducted on rats showed that the essential oils derived from bay leaves can help in healing minor wounds and cuts and reduce inflammation.
May prevent cancer– A research published in Nutrition and Cancer shows bay leaf extracts as a potential natural agent that can help kill the growth of cancer cells in the body.
Aids in Digestion – The enzymes present in bay leaves may help eliminate an upset tummy and soothe irritable bowel syndrome, reducing bloating and gas.
Best Food Pairing & Substitute
Being a mild aromatic spice or herb, bay leaves is a versatile spice and goes well with any food item and mostly all spices.
If you are looking for an alternative to bay leaves then it you can leave them out of the dish completely or refer to the post below for the best substitutes for bay leaves and the best food pairings.
Where to Buy Them ?
Depending on the type of bay leaves you wish to buy, they are easily available at most supermarkets.
However, you will have to visit an Indian grocery store to buy Indian bay leaves or tej patta.
Wherever you choose to buy it make sure it is from a trusted source.
The leaves should be bright and not too pale in colour.
Check the manufacturer date as old bay leaves tends to have less taste.
Ensure that the packs or jars are tightly sealed.
How To Store Bay Leaves
Bay leaves can freshness pretty soon if not stored properly.
Keep it in a tightly sealed glass container, or if it’s in a packet then close the opening of the packet tightly with a clip.
Store all dried form of bay leaves in a dark, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Fresh bay leaves can be stored in the fridge separate from other strong food substance.
Well stored leaves will keep its character and flavour for a least 6 months.
Easy Recipes with Bay leaves to Try
Your Views and Recipes
Do you use Bay leaves in your cooking?
I love to hear your kitchen adventures so please share any recipes or tips.
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