Bay leaf (plural bay leaves) refers to the aromatic leaf of the Bay Laurel :
(Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae). "Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves are often used to flavor soups, stews, braises and pâtés in Mediterranean Cuisine. The fresh leaves are very mild and do not develop their full flavor until several weeks after picking and drying."
Several other plants use the term "bay leaf,"
but do not refer to the leaves of the Bay Laurel. They include:
- California bay leaf: The leaf of the California bay tree (Umbellularia californica), also known as 'California laurel', 'Oregon myrtle', and 'pepperwood', is similar to the Mediterranean bay but has a stronger flavor.
- Indian bay leaf: (also tej pat, tejpat, tejpata तेजपत्ता or Tamalpatra तमालपत्र) The leaf of the Cinnamomum tejpata (malabathrum) tree is similar in fragrance and taste to cinnamon bark, but milder. In appearance, it is similar to the other bay leaves but is culinarily quite different, having an aroma and flavor more similar to that of Cassia. It is inaccurately called a bay leaf as it is of a different genus (though the same family) as the bay laurel.
- Indonesian bay leaf or "Indonesian laurel" (salam leaf): "The leaf of Syzygium polyanthum. Not commonly found outside of Indonesia, this exotic spice is applied to meat and, less often vegetables. Like Indian bay leaf, it is also inaccurately named because the plant is actually a member of the Myrtaceae family."
Taste and aroma
"If eaten whole, bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable in cooked foods than the taste. When dried, the fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and somewhat similar to oregano and thyme. Myrcene, which is a component of many essential oils used in perfumery, can be extracted from the bay leaf. Bay leaves also contain the essential oil eugenol."
"Bay leaves are a fixture in the cooking of many European cuisines (particularly those of the Mediterranean), as well as in North America. They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. The leaves also flavor classic French dishes such as bouillabaisse and bouillon. The leaves are most often used whole (sometimes in a bouquet garni), and removed before serving. In Indian and Pakistani cuisine bay leaves are often used in biryani and many salads. In Japan, too, it has a long history as a herbal ingredient."
"Bay leaves can also be crushed (or ground) before cooking. Crushed bay leaves impart more of their desired fragrance than whole leaves, and there is less chance of biting into a leaf directly."
"A number of members of the Laurel family (including mountain laurel and cherry laurel) have leaves that are poisonous to humans and livestock. While these plants are not sold anywhere for culinary use, their visual similarity to bay leaves has led to the oft-repeated belief that bay leaves should be removed from food after cooking because they are poisonous. This is not true - bay leaves are safe to eat. However, they remain very stiff even after thorough cooking, and because of this, are not considered culinarily acceptable. Eating whole bay leaves may also pose a risk of general injury to the throat. This is the reason why all recipes that use bay leaves will recommend their removal after the cooking process has finished."
"Gardeners in frost-free or light frost areas will find that Bay Laurel seedlings planted in the ground willingly grow into large trees, 38 feet and taller; but when kept pruned the Bay Laurel tree can thrive as a small bush. Bay Laurel can also be grown in containers, the size of which limits the ultimate size of the trees. New plants are often started via layering, or from cuttings, since growing from seed can be difficult."
"Bay trees are difficult to start from seed, due in part to the seed's low germination rate, and long germination period. Fresh seeds with the pericarp removed typically have a 40% germination rate, while dried seeds and/or seeds with an intact pericarp have yet lower germination rates. In addition, the Bay Laurel seed germination period can be 50 days or more, which increases the risk of the seeds rotting before they germinate. Treating the seeds with gibberellic acid can be useful in increasing seed yield, as is careful monitoring of moisture levels in the rooting media."
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