The Spice Series: Bay Leaves: Culinary Uses

This is a continuation of my Spice Series. Welcome to my information on Bay Leaves!

Illustration by Christy Beckwith



**The bay leaf comes from the bay laurel tree, an evergreen that originates from the Mediterranean region.

**Bay leaves are beautiful additions to anyone’s garden. They are also known for both their medicinal benefits and their culinary uses.


**Due to the vast amount of information on Bay Leaves, I will only be posting about the Culinary Uses of Bay leaves in this post. Click here for my information on the Medicinal Benefits of Bay Leaves. Click here for my information on How to Grow Bay Leaves.


Culinary Uses:


**Bay leaves are one of the most popular and common spices in North America cooking. It has a woodsy, pungent aroma and intensifies in flavor and smell the longer it cooks.

**In America, bay leaves are used in soups, stews, marinades, and in steamed seafood. It is an important ingredient in San Francisco’s famous cioppino, a fish stew. It is also used in corned beef, an American favorite as well as most steamed or boiled seafood along the coasts.

**In England, they also use bay leaves in savory dishes like in America, but they also add them to their custards and puddings as well.

**In France, bay leaves are an important ingredient in ‘bouquet garni’, a bundle of herbs that are tied together and placed in long-simmering soups and stews. It is also used in their poaching liquid called ‘court boullion’, which is used to poach fish, seafood, vegetables, eggs, and other food items.

**It is also a very common spice in the entire Mediterranean region and is used in many of their recipes. Bay Leaves are one of the ingredients that make the Mediterranean diet one of the healthiest diets in the world.


**Most recipes call for either 1 or 2 bay leaves. That is all that is needed to help flavor a dish. Too many would overwhelm the meal.


**Bay leaf pairs well with these herbs and spices: Black pepper, Basil, Cinnamon, Cumin, Garlic, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme.

**It complements recipes featuring: Pot roast, Tomato Sauces, Soups/Stews, and Seafood


**Here are ideas for getting more bay leaf in your life and your diet:

• Add a leaf or two to the water when boiling carrots, potatoes, or noodles.

• Add bay leaf to simmering tomato sauces, even when you are heating up commercial pasta sauce.

Steam shrimp in beer infused with bay leaf.

• Add more taste/aroma to your rice by putting a bay leaf  into your dried rice container.

Make a French court bouillon for poaching fish, by combining two parts water to one part white wine, along with chopped carrots, onions, some thyme, and a bay leaf. Cover and simmer one hour before adding fish. Use enough liquid to immerse the fish completely.



**There is a clash in the cuisine world about whether or not you can eat bay leaves. Some say that swallowing a bay leaf can puncture your intestines. Others say that not only can the bay leaves be consumed, they can be extremely beneficial for your health. I do not know which is correct, and if this issue is a concern to you, please make sure to research the topic more before you decide. Most recipes call for you to take the bay leaf out before consuming, at the very least for aesthetic purposes.


**At your local grocery stores, you will find that bay leaves are in a dried and whole form. It is rare to find ground bay leaves (here is one, though), since most recipes call for whole leaves and it is also difficult to grind the leaves up (being thin, they often move through the blades of a grinder without being touched; if you try to grind them at home, you might need to add rice with the leaves so that they catch and simply add the rice mixture to your recipe).

**When buying bay leaves, look for containers that hold very few broken leaves and that do not have any discoloration (here is an idea). In addition, when you open the container, if the aroma is not strong, the batch is no longer fresh.


**Do YOU have any famous recipes that use bay leaves that you are willing to share? Please feel free to add them to the comment section below.


**Please click here for the Medicinal Benefits of Bay Leaves. Please click here for the How to Grow information on Bay Leaves. Don’t forget to check out the rest of my Spice Series as well!



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  1. You can also very successfully freeze fresh bay leaves and remove just what you need. I find this to be superior to drying the leaves as they retain much more flavor when frozen. Also, if you do have a large tree and are going to prune it, is to lay some fresh branches over the coals in your barbecue and cook your chicken or beef. You need to tightly cover the lid so the meat gets smoked and cooks slowly. I learned this in Cyprus where they seal up mud ovens and cook chicken or lamb on a bed of coals covered in fresh bay leaves….best meat I’ve ever eaten!

    1. Wow, great tips, thanks for sharing! That sounds awesome (the branches on coals thing). I’ll have to try that this summer!

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