Bay leaf

Bay leaf tastes like slightly bitter pepper, with a resinous note. Use in stews, broths, marinades, pickles and in your bouquet garni. Matches well with lentils or beans.

How to identify bay leaf

Bay leaves are the beautiful rich deep green leaves of the laurel tree. The laurel is a small shrub or tree. It can grow up to 30ft (9 m) in the warm southern regions, or up to 15 ft (4.5 m) in cool conditions. The leaves are laden with heavily aromatic oil.

The plant bears tiny yellow flowers in spring. Its fruit has the form of purple-black berries. The bay tree originated in Asia Minor. It is widely grown in Mediterranean climates and cool temperate regions.

How to use and store bay leaves

Bay leaves are available fresh or dried. They can be found ground, too, but ground leaves lose flavor quickly; worse, their flavor turns acrid and it can spoil any dish. Fresh leaves have a stronger aroma and slightly bitter flavor, use them sparingly. Preferably, dry a branch at home, or buy olive green, never brown, whole dried leaves.

Bay leaf is used worldwide, but it has a particularly presence in French and Mediterranean cuisine. It is an essential ingredient in bouquet garni. It lends flavor to all types of savory dishes, soups and sauces, stews, both vegetables and meats, marinades, pickles and brines. The béchamel sauce acquires a totally new flavor when a bay leaf is simmered in the milk.

How to grow bay leaf

The bay tree is easy to grow, either in the garden or in tubs, as an ornamental plant, providing a fresh supply of leaves throughout the years. The plants can be propagated from heal cuttings. Young trees can be bought from garden centers.

Choose a sunny and sheltered spot, in well drained soil. The trees do not need any particular care, except to protect very young plants in a severe winter.

Cooking with bay leaf

Infuse bay leaf into milk before using it for white sauce, or white gravy.

Bay leaf substitution - if a recipe calls for dry bay leaves and you don't have them, substitute 2 dry bay leaves with:

  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) juniper berries. Adds a gin flavor, but this comes out good in a bouquet garni, for stews, or crushed as a rub for meat
  • 1/2 tsp bouquet garni mix, when it comes in a bag.

bay leaf - laurus nobilis (lauraceae) - French: feuille de laurier - German: lorbeerblatt - Italian: foglia de alloro - Spanish: hoja de laurel.