Home > Cooking with Herbs > Cooking with Bay Leaves

Cooking with Bay Leaves

By: Kate Bradbury - Updated: 1 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Cooking With Bay Leaves

Bay leaves (Sweet Bay or Sweet Laurel) originate in Asia but are well adapted to the Mediterranean where they grow profusely. They are commonly used in English and French cooking in a variety of dishes from soups and stews to grilled fish and meat dishes.

Use of bay leaves dates back to legends of the Greek god Apollo (god of prophecy healing and poetry). Legend suggests that Apollo was in love with Daphne, but it was unrequited. To hide herself from him, she turned herself into a bay tree. When Apollo found out what she had done he declared the bay tree sacred and wore a wreath of bay leaves on his head. In Ancient Greece and Rome it became a tradition to crown victors in battle and sporting events with a wreath of bay leaves. Poets received a similar honour – one that is recognised now in the accolade of poet laureate.

Bay leaves are slightly narcotic, and were used by the priestesses in the Temple at Delphi to induce mild trance-like states. However they do not induce such states when dried and used in small quantities in coking.

Varieties of Bay Leaf

There are two main varieties of bay leaf:

  • Turkish – with medium, oval leaves and a subtle flavour
  • Californian – with long, narrow leaves and an intense flavour
Bay leaves have a delicate, earthy aroma and a slightly bitter flavour. They are particularly good at drawing out the flavours of different ingredients in a meal. Bay leaves are most commonly used whole, as a dry leaf in stews and soups, or as part of a bouquet garni. They can also be crumbled into dishes, however because of their waxy texture it is best to use them whole and remove them before serving the meal.

Bay leaves are a staple ingredient in the French bouquet garni, a classic combination of herbs that’s tied together and added to a dish, such as a stew (dried herbs can be tied in cheesecloth). Once the dish is cooked, the bouquet garni is removed. A typical bouquet garni consists of two or three bay leaves and a sprig of parsley and thyme. However any combination of herbs can be used, including sage and tarragon, or rosemary and mint.Fresh bay leaves have an intense flavour, which lessens as it is dried. Just before adding bay leaves to a meal, gently crinkle them to bring out their flavour. Fresh bay leaves are much more pungent than dried bay leaves and should be used sparingly. Fresh bay leaves and large quantities of dried bay leaves can make a dish bitter.

Recipe Ideas

Try adding a couple of bay leaves to chicken fricassee, beef stews and a bouquet garni with thyme and parsley to stock.

Bay leaves are a versatile ingredient in dishes and are used to bring out and compliment the different flavours of a particular meal. They have a pungent flavour when eaten fresh and a more subtle flavour when dry. They are best removed from the meal prior to serving or can be crumbled finely.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Add a bay leaf or two to the boiling water when cooking raw crustaceans like prawns or langoustines. They really make a difference. A bit of a surprise given that you only cook the above for a few minutes in a large amount of water.This is very commonly done in Spain where they know a thing or two about seafood.
kermit - 17-Jan-12 @ 11:00 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Dee
    Re: Cooking with Calendula or Pot Marigold
    Someone gave me a large bag of these petals and I need to know of s way to use them in cooking Can you also make tea…
    2 April 2020
  • Riadigur
    Re: Growing Bay Leaves
    Hi I have a large bay tree in my garden and it has 3 significant side trunks about 10 inches in diameter. We were thinking of removing one and…
    29 February 2020
  • Riadigur
    Re: Growing Bay Leaves
    We have a large bay in our garden which has been there over 20 years. From the ground alongside the main trunk we have 2 side trunks about 8…
    26 February 2020
  • Anny0
    Re: Growing Rosemary
    My rosemarinus officinalis has been in bud since late January and this morning(4 Feb 2020) I noticed a fully formed flower. I live in Lincolnshire…
    4 February 2020
  • BrianChido
    Re: Cooking with Marjoram
    great article on the uses of Marjoram. I have been visiting Germany over the past few years and discovered that the herb is quite popular…
    2 October 2019
  • MN-CY
    Re: Growing Thyme
    Please can you tell me which variety of thyme has the smallest leaves ?
    31 July 2019
  • Harry
    Re: Growing Bay Leaves
    I have an 8ft / 2.5m high established bay tree in the garden. When I prune it should I keep some of the new leaf growth or older darker leaf…
    22 July 2019
  • 4waystoyummy
    Re: Cooking with Calendula or Pot Marigold
    yes, the photo shown is another type of marigold. I think it is important to investigate the true flower you wish to…
    17 July 2019
  • Pertwee
    Re: Cooking with Chives
    Can you and how do you use chives in Thai cooking please
    11 July 2019
  • sjpmorris
    Re: Growing Rosemary
    Long shot; we have a quite large rosemary plant that has no leaves or branches on the bottom foot of the "trunk", is there any way to bring them…
    18 June 2019