WHAT ARE BAY LEAVES?
Originally from modern day Turkey, these dried out green leaves are a popular addition to many Asian and Mediterranean recipes. There are a handful of different plants from which “bay” leaves are commercially harvested. In general the leaves are cooked in a recipe whole and then removed from the dish before serving. Much like with almonds, there are some variants like mountain laurel which are poisonous to humans.
WHY ARE BAY LEAVES GOOD FOR YOU?
Due to the presence of the chemical eugenol, bay leaves are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. So they’re a great preservative to add to non-irradiated spice mixes. Health-wise they’re rich in vitamins A and C. As for minerals bay leaves are a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium. They also aid with digestion!
WHEN ARE BAY LEAVES IN SEASON?
It takes a few years for this evergreen to mature, but once they’re mature enough they are a spring and summer plant. Always harvest the biggest leaves first, working your way back down to the smallest.
HOW SHOULD BAY LEAVES BE STORED?
When these leaves are dried, store them in an airtight container away from sunlight or moisture. It’s rare to find fresh ones, but like with most fresh herbs store in zip lock bag with a damp paper towel and refrigerate. They’ll keep for about a week or so this way. You can also freeze the dried version, but make sure to store them in an air tight bag. And don’t be afraid to double bag your dried herbs to keep out any moisture or unwanted flavors.
DO BAY LEAVES ACTUALLY ADD ANY FLAVOR?
This ingredient to the beginner seems too mild to lend much flavor to a large stew. But remember, subtle hints can make the difference between a so-so and a great dish. Bay is not limited to infusing liquids, you can also cram a bunch in the body cavity of a chicken or in a pot of rice you’re about to cook. However the secret to cooking with bay leaves is two-fold. First, they are not meant to be the star of the show, they are supporting actors that work best when together with other herbs and spices (and thus the bouquet garni was born). Second this herb is meant to be removed from your dish, not blended into it.