The ancient Greeks crowned victors and scholars with wreaths made from the glossy green leaves of the bay laurel tree. In the kitchen, dried bay leaves impart a sweet bitter flavor to sauces, soups and meat stews.
Also called laurel leaf or bay laurel, this aromatic herb is hand-picked from the evergreen Laurus Nobilis, or bay laurel tree which is native to the Mediterranean. Bay leaves are green, handsomely glossy and up to three inches in length.
While fresh leaves are seldom available in markets today, dried bay leaves have become one of the most commonly used herbs in American kitchens and cuisines around the world. The leaves impart a delicate aromatic scent and a sweet, but mildly bitter flavor.
Bay leaves have held a noble place in history since ancient times, when the laurel tree was considered a symbol of glory, protection and achievement. Roman victors would wipe blood from their swords with the leaves, and the Greeks crowned scholars and Olympic champions with laurel wreaths and garland.
The two main varieties are Mediterranean (Turkish) and Californian. The oval-shaped Mediterranean or "true laurel" leaves are the variety most commonly found in the spice aisle. Largely supplied by Turkey, these have a more subtle flavor than the oilier, more narrow leaves produced by laurel trees grown in California.
Dried bay leaves may be used whole or crumbled into your recipes. The leaves are bitter and hard to chew, so remember to remove whole leaves from your recipes before serving, or crumble them very finely. Add a leaf or two to flavor marinades, spaghetti sauce, chili, meat stews and bean, split pea or vegetable soups.
Combined with parsley and thyme, bay leaves are also used to make a classic bouquet garni. Traditionally, these herbs are tied together (or wrapped in cheesecloth), added to a dish, allowed to simmer and lifted out at the end of cooking.
basil, beans, beef, carrots, celery, chicken, chili, curry, fish, garlic, lamb, lemon, mint, mushrooms, onion, orange, oregano, parsley, paté, pickles, potatoes, rosemary, sage, thyme, tomatoes