Bay Leaves as Culinary Herb and Uses In Cooking

        Bay leaves are very pleasantly flavorful and a must-have herb in my kitchen. I use it all my life in cooking, mostly at soups, canning, marinades, and roasting meats. I know two varieties of bay leaves the European bay leaf comes from bushes and American bay leaves in California grow on large trees. California bay leaf has a round shape and is larger than the European bay leaf. California variety is less flavorful than the bush variation ( My tree is small and it may change with time). I have both plants in my tiny garden. I like the bush bay leaves flavor much more than tree bay leaves because it is stronger. I use most of the time fresh bay leaves in my cooking and bay leaves powder sometimes when the recipe calls for it. The aroma of fresh bay leaves is much more pleasant compared to dry bay leaves in any dish. Price-wise, dry leaves are much more expensive to buy than to have our own plant. I am going to share what I know from my own experience. In the photo below curly leaves are bush and flat leaves are a tree.

2 Types Bay Leaves

Do Bay leaves need to be dried before cooking? No. I just recently saw an online statement from a respectful source that dry Bay leaves are better than fresh ones because fresh can overpower the dish. I completely do not agree, if we use a bush version of Bay leaves, they are way better than any dry leaves!

What Is The Difference Between Bay Leaves And Indian Bay Leaves?

      Bay leaves can be also called Indian Bay leaves in some recipes (TEJ PATTA) but really they are from two different plants. So, I am going to mention, if you are not familiar with Bay leaves. What makes confusion in some recipes? I saw on the Internet some sellers sell Indian bay leaves and on the photo bay leaves. The Indian Bay leaf is very easy to recognize. The veins run from the bottom of the leaf to the top vertically. But the most important to know is flavors absolutely different and they are different plants. Indian bay leaves from the cassia tree (cinnamon). Personally, I don’t try yet Indian Bay leaves but read about them, they kind of cinnamon aroma with a hint of cloves. Indian bay leaves are commonly used in Indian cuisine.

If you use cinnamon in cooking, important to know the difference between Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. The difference is the amount of coumarin and flavor.

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1. Bay Leaves Uses in Cooking

     

      Bay leaves are a good addition to meat (especially to pot roast and stews), fish, seafood, game, and some vegetable dishes. So good to use in most stocks and broth. I thought all my life bay leaves were good in chicken stock and used them. I just recently heard from one chef’s show – bay leaf overpowers the chicken flavor and better don’t use it in chicken broth or soup. I make chicken broth and yes, I agree without bay leaf chicken stock is better! I cooked my life chicken soups with bay leaves and learned just now it doesn’t complement the chicken broth or stock. Here is my personal opinion on how to use bay leaves with chicken. In some recipes, it is great to use Bay Laurel for chicken in a complex of many flavors. If the recipe calls Bay leaf, I definitely going to use it.

     Bay leaf is a very good flavoring for pickling vegetables, fish, seafood, and mushrooms. In some cultures, they add bay leaves to a tea-based beverages.

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2. How To Use Bay Leaves For Beginners

        Photo Bay Leaves

        We can add the flavor of bay leaves by boiling them separately in water and adding the infusion to our dish. If you make an infusion for soup, use broth (stock) from this soup to make the infusion. It is more time-consuming but we don’t have to remove leaves after the dish is done and have control of the amount of flavor given to a dish. No matter what spices I use, I try to follow the golden rule of cooking with spices, better add less flavor than overpower the dish with flavor. Always remember to remove Bay leaves from the dish after cooking because some Bay leaves can add bitterness to the dish. The exception is preserving food in jars for winter. I cook in my Crock-Pot with bay leaves too. I add bay leaves before sealing the lid.

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3. How to Use Bay Leaves for Cooking

       In soups and stocks add 5-10 minutes for the best flavor before the end of cooking and remember to remove after. Some bay leaves can give bitterness to our dish, especially dry leaves. However, bay leaf flavor compliments very well meat in stock, so if you try it one time you definitely going to keep it in your pantry as a must-to-have spice. Cooking with fresh bay leaves is the same as with dry. Fresh leaves have a mild and much more pleasant flavor than dry ones. I can say, a big difference. The best bay leaves are fresh bay leaves! Fresh bay leaves I like much more than dry bay leaves and use them most of the time in cooking fresh bay leaves.

           Someone asked me, “What to do with fresh bay leaves before cooking?” Just wash it and use it as you use dry bay leaves. The direction is the same. I like to tear it slightly to get more flavor to my dish.

      Bay Leaves in Soups and Stocks

  In soups and stocks add 5-10 minutes before the end of cooking and remember to remove after. Some bay leaves can give bitterness to our dish, especially dry leaves. However, bay leaf flavor compliments so well meat in stocks, so if you try one time you definitely going to keep it in your pantry. Photo Bay Leaves as Culinary Herb and Uses

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Check out the soup recipe with bay leaves ⇒ Easy Vegetarian Borscht Recipe

Meat Dishes

Photo Meat stuffed potato Russian recipe

For meat dishes, like pork roast, Louisiana red beans, and rice, add 20 minutes before done.

Check out my easy potato recipe with bay leaves, the photo above ⇒ Russian Meat Stuffed Potato Recipe

Vegetable Canning

For canning vegetables or mushrooms, leave bay leaves in a jar and seal them. Of course, we should follow the recipe and most recipes have their own direction on when to add spices. Most important to remember everything in the jar should be pasteurized before sealing for long time storage.

Marinades

When we use it to make a marinade for seafood or fish use peppercorns or other spices as pairing with bay leaves. Bay leaf is great to use in marinades for meat, vegetables, and mushrooms.

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Tip How To Use Fresh Bay Leaves With Cloves Spice

Bay Leaves Tip With Cloves Photo

         I was cooking leek and potato soup by good old fashion recipe in my Crock-Pot. The recipe calls for cloves and bay leaves. The suggestion was to tie spices in a small square of clean cloth. I instead just stick my cloves in bay leaves, so I don’t have to look for cloves in my soup. When I open the lid, as you can see in the photo below bay leaves hold the cloves and I don’t have to look for them. Of course, it is going to work only for fresh bay leaves.

Tip Bay leaf and cloves spice Photo

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4. 3 Ways How to Preserve Fresh Bay Leaves

Bay leaves tree 1 Photo

     I have a bay leaf in my yard and when cold in winter just bring it inside the house. Bay leaves green all year round and I don’t have to preserve it. However, I am going to share 3 ways how to preserve fresh bay leaves, if you have fresh ones given to you by someone else or bought fresh on a market. I tried every method myself in the past. Choose dark green and not damaged leaves. Damaged bay leaves are better to use as soon as possible in cooking and good ones preserve for future use. I cooking all my life with bay leaves and the best method to preserve bay leaves is drying them on natural air, in my opinion.

How To Dry Fresh Bay Leaves

 1

     Inspect for insects and wash gently from dust bay leaves, don’t break them! This step is important because very high possibility, bay leaves may have insects on them.

2

          We can dry the old fashion way in the natural air. We can leave bay leaves on branches without removing leaves. Cover with cheesecloth to protect from insects and hang upside down with a wooden clothespin in the attic or another place depending on where you live. Very important to choose a dry place, without direct sun on it. Cheesecloth is the perfect material to cover leaves because it allows air to circulate around leaves and absorbs well any moisture. The time for drying bay leaves depends on many factors and can take a week or even longer. Bay leaf is ready for storing, if we try to bend it and it is going to break. Keep in an airtight container or ziplock bag in a cabinet. I dried fresh bay leaves in the past and they keep a nice green color after drying and a nice flavor.

        We can also dry leaves separately from the branch in natural air. Place dry bay leaves on cheesecloth in one layer and cover with another layer of cheesecloth, so air circulates around the leaves. Turn around leaves sometimes to speed up the drying process.

         The natural air I prefer the most. However, you can dry bay leaves in the oven as other herbs, vegetables, or fruits. Use the lowest temperature and keep the oven door slightly open for air circulation. We can use also dry bay leaves as a dehydrator and if you have one, just follow the instruction.

3

Keep dry bay leaves in a tight container in a dark cool place where you keep all your spices.

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Freezing Fresh Bay Leaves

Photo Frozen bay leaves comparison

I tried to freeze fresh bay leaves myself, just to share my experience with you. In the photo, I am holding fresh Bay leaf, and on the table previously frozen leaves.

I placed washed and dried bay leaves in a ziplock bag and push out the air. I cool off bay leaves in the refrigerator at first and then place them in the freezer. I let just for a few minutes get close to room temperature bay leaves before putting it in a hot dish. The color of the leaf is slightly discolored after freezing as you can see in the photo. The flavor is nice and pleasant but less intensive than the fresh bay leaf.

 Another way to preserve bay leaves is to keep them in a flower vase with water as I do with a bouquet of flowers. I cut the stems on the 45% angle and removed leaves from the bottom, so leaves were not contacted with water directly. Mature and dark green leaves stay fresh very well to the point I am ready to use them. So it is another way to preserve bay leaves for some period of time. A bouquet of Bay leaves is great decor for the kitchen too.

Another Option Way To Keep Fresh Bay Leaves Longer

Very good to preserve bay leaves with a vacuum sealer and keep them in the refrigerator. But it is an expensive way to do it.

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5. Garnish Canned Food With Bay Leaves

        I did a lot of canned food in the past when had my own garden. Handmade canned food is always a good gift to bring if someone is invited to a party or just visit. Hearts in a jar is a very nice touch. The idea to garnish for example a can of marinated pickles with bay leaves hearts is so cute. If you make canned food, you might like the idea. The bay leaf heart is so easy to make! I use kitchen shears to make this simple garnish for canned food. I cut the top of the bay leaf in the shape of a heart, the bottom of the heart already made by mother nature. Scrap from the bay leaf heart we can use in soup or other dishes, don’t throw away.

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6. Bay Leaves As A Plant For Garden

 We live in a subtropical climate and can plant Bay leaves bush in the ground. However, I like to grow my Bay Lauren leaves plants in pods. So it is easy to move around and when the weather is very cold in winter, I take it inside the house. It can happen a few times in the wintertime where we live. I spoke to some local people, they have Bay leaves bushes on the yard very successfully and they grow themselves. However, it needs to be covered in wintertime.

When to use fresh bay leaves in cooking?

I use fresh bay leaves the same way as dry ones, just be sure you use the most flavorful leaves. The most flavorful Bay leaves are older and dark green leaves. Let the light green leaves grow more and get more flavorful out of your dish.

*Check the flavor of Bay Lauren leaves when you choose plants in the nursery. I learned it from my own experience. Bay Lauren can be different and I got the plant last year without checking its flavor. I checked one leaf and it is not even close to the normal flavorful Bay Lauren bush as I usually use because it is a Bay Leaf tree.
Bay leaves tree Photo

Bay leaves tree 3 Photo1. Water regularly, but not too much. A plant doesn’t survive with a lot of watering.

2. A bay leaves plant grows very slow, consider it when getting a plant.

3.  Moneywise is very practical to get the plant of Bay leaves if you use often bay leaves in cooking.

4. Best Bay leaf flavor in older dark green leaves.

7. Where to Buy Bay Leaves Plant In The USA

Bay leaf plants are available online and at local nurseries in the USA. The best price I found at our local plants nursery. I got the much older plant for almost the same money as I saw online. Online usually sells small plants because of the convenience of shipping. Of course, I prefer to buy plants at the local store option instead of online because can see my plant, and most important it possibly can be damaged when shipped. 

If you live in the USA and have a problem with your bay leaf tree (or other plants), I am going to share what I did. I took some leaves to show at a local plant nursery. Every plant nursery has a botanist and it is the right place to ask for help. They helped me to diagnose my bay leaves problem and told me what I need to do. They consult me for free and I pay only for the treatment and safe my plants.  

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