Bay Leaf

A bowl of bay leaves

The bay leaf is picked from the bay tree – it is dark green with a shiny coating on top. A popular spice added at the start of many dishes, it is also quite controversial. People often question the use of this ingredient in cooking and ask whether it brings any flavors to the dish. However, the French have been using it as an essential part of many dishes for centuries. It brings a subtle flavor that supports the other ingredients in many recipes – without it, many dishes would be flat.

Flavor

Bay leaves have a pungent herbal flavor with a bitter undertone and a floral aroma. The presence of cineole offers a warming woody flavor that is complemented well by cardamom, nutmeg, and galangal. The bay leaf has a texture that is tough and fibrous, and should be removed before serving.

Pairs with

Proteins

  • shrimp
  • pot roast
  • shellfish
  • casseroles
  • white fish
  • barbecues

Vegetables

  • mushrooms
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • capsicums
  • carrots
  • bell peppers

Spices

  • sage
  • marjoram
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • garlic
  • chili

Spice blends: bouquet garni, herbes de Provence, ras el hanout

Culinary uses

The most common use for bay leaves in cooking is slow-cooked recipes. Stocks, casseroles, soups and terrines all benefit from the addition of two bay leaves.

The flavor oils contained in a bay leaf are deep within its structure, which is why they should be added early in the cook. This allows time for the oils to infuse. The flavors are released more efficiently when heated in oil or fat, so if you cook them in water, allow ample time for the spice to work its magic.

How much? Use two fresh leaves or one dry leaf when adding to vegetables, white meat, or baked goods. For red meat, use three fresh or two dried leaves.

Substitutes

To replace bay leaves in a recipe use thyme, boldo, basil, oregano, or juniper berries. They won’t perfectly mimic the flavor, but they won’t taste out of place either.

Storage

Store bay leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place for up to three years.

Quick Facts

NameDescription
FamilyLauraceae
Flavor compoundCineole, eugenol, linalool, phellandrene, pinene, terpineol
Botanical nameLaurus nobilis
Parts usedLeaves
Other namesBay laurel, sweet bay, poet’s laurel, European bay leaf
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