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Bay Leaves

California bay leaves

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Sweet laurel; sweet bay

What is it?

Fresh bay leaves, which come from the laurel tree, were once woven into garlands and worn by Roman and Greek Emperors, poets, heroes, Olympians, and scholars. Today they’re most often used in bouquets garnis, stocks, and braises. A leaf or two gets added to to soups and stews almost as a matter of course and then removed after its flowery and spicy bouquet has been lent to the dish. Bay leaves are used more often than any other herb.

There are two main varieties: California bay leaves, which tend to be longer and thinner with a more potent and slightly minty flavor and Turkish bay leaves (also called Mediterranean), which have shorter, fatter leaves and a more subtle flavor. Turkish bay leaves, the most commonly used type, are from the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), an ancient tree originating in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

California bay leaves are harvested from a related tree called Umbellularia californica. The flat leaves are a little longer and deeper green than bay laurel leaves and have a similar but much stronger flavor.

Bay leaves come both fresh and dried, with dried being the most common form. Fresh bay leaves are shiny and dark green on the top, and pale green underneath. They’re very aromatic, with a slight bitter flavor. As they dry, their color becomes a matte olive green and their fl avor intensifies. While dried bay leaves are more widely available, if you can find fresh ones, use them; they’re often in the herb section of grocery stores.

How to choose:

Dried bay leaves should be free of blemishes, cracks, and tears. Fresh bay leaves are bright green and waxy, and they bend and twist without tearing.

How to prep:

There’s no need to pound or crush bay leaf before adding it to a dish; but do remove whole bay leaves from a dish before serving. Most recipes calling for bay leaves refer to the Turkish bay laurel. To substitute California bay leaves, we recommend using only half the amount that a recipe calls for, which may mean using half a leaf.

How to store:

Well sealed, dried bay leaves will last about two years before losing their perfume.


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