Bay leaves are sauce, stew, or soup staples! Even though the flavor is subtle, you would know something was missing if it was left out—guaranteed. It doesn’t, itself, have an extremely recognizable taste, but it works in the background, bringing out the best of all the other flavors in the pot.
Bay leaves should be dark green and shiny on top and light green on the bottom. Most of the bay leaves we buy in the store are from Turkey and California. California leaves are darker in color and long and slender compared to the more oval-shaped Turkish bay. California bay leaves are best in dishes that cook for less time because they have a stronger flavor that can overpower other subtle flavors in the dish if cooked for too long. Fresh bay leaves are rare to come by, unless visiting a specialty spice store.
If your bay leaves are fresh, store them in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel inside of a sealed zip top plastic bag. If your bay leaves are dried, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to two years, but to ensure the best flavor and aroma, replacing after one year is recommended.
Bay leaves come from bay tress, which are a member of the laurel family. Laurel leaves were the leaves used to make wreaths for Olympic champions. Aside from their prestige with Olympian gods, they were used medicinally, too; bay leaves cured migraines and stomachaches.
TIPS FOR USE:
Even though bay is technically considered an herb, it should be treated as a spice when cooking.
One dried bay leaf = two fresh bay leaves
One bay leaf = ¼ teaspoon crushed thyme if you don’t have bay on hand
Eating a dried bay leaf (even after it has simmered in a soup or stew) can be quite unpleasant. Bay leaves are very tough, and hard to chew, which can cause abrasions in the digestive system. It is always recommended to remove the bay leaf before serving any dish. If you’re worried about being able to find the leaf, you can make an herb sachet with cheesecloth.
Bay leaf is a known insecticide. If you’re having problem with bugs in your dried goods, just drop a few bay leaves in to keep the bugs at bay!
DRYING YOUR OWN:
Bay leaves should be harvested from a Bay tree that is at least two years old. It is best to pick the leaves during the middle of summer, in the morning after the dew has evaporated (this helps prevent wilting). Be careful not to bruise the leaves while picking. Spread the Bay leaves in a single layer on a paper towel lined baking sheet and leave them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated room for 2 weeks. Flip the leaves one time during the process to ensure even drying. If the leaves seem wet in some spots, or damp at all, leave them to dry for an additional week, or until they are completely dry.
Try some of our favorite recipes and really let the bay shine!
Sausage Corn Chowder
Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourguignonne
Bubba’s Shrimp Gumbo
Crispy Fried Tacos with Salsa Verde
Bobby’s Pickled Shrimp
Basic Italian Tomato Sauce