Bay Leaves for Culinary Purposes

The leaves of the Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) are used extensively for culinary purposes, particularly in Mediterranean cuisine. They are also used in many French dishes and even in Thai and Arab-influenced cooking. Bay leaves can be used to flavour soups, stews, pasta dishes, meats, sea food and vegetable dishes.

Bay leaves are also an essential part of the classic bouquet garni, along with parsley and thyme. They are used both fresh and dried, for their distinctive flavor and fragrance.

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves

Dried or Fresh Bay Leaves?

There is a difference in flavour between a fresh bay leaf and a dry bay leaf. The fresh bay leaf is best used for a short cooking dish with slightly delicate flavours like sea food. The dried bay leaf has a flavour that readily infuses into the dish. The dried bay leaf has a stronger flavour but loses a little bit of the bitterness of a fresh bay leaf. Dried bay leaves can be used and stored for up to a year.

How to Dry a Bay Leaf

  1. Pick the undamaged healhty leaves gently from the plant once the morning dew has evaporated, ideally during the middle of summer, and separate them. The largest leaves are the most aromatic and will have the strongest flavour to them.
  2. Leave on a paper towel in a well ventilated are that is warm and dry until all the moisture from the leaves have evaporated. Flip them over after a week or so to ensure each side dries evenly.
  3. Check for dark green spots or softness. This is a sign of moisture still in the leaves and they may need longer to dry out.
  4. Store dried bay leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Are Bay Leaves Edible?

Whilst Cherry Laurel and some members of the laurel family are poisonous to both humans and livestock, the bay leaf is not. Bay leaves can be eaten without risk of toxicity, however dried bay leaves are very sharp, stiff, and abrasive, even after cooking, and can cause choking and internal organ damage. Because of this they are typically removed from dishes before serving, or simply used as a garnish. Ground bay leaves can be ingested safely.

Bay Leaves Explained

Herbie from Herbie’s Spices has an excellent video about the leaves of Laurus nobilis, the Bay Laurel: