Bay leaves are an herb that comes from the laurel bush and can be used fresh, dried, or ground in your cooking. They are a staple in any spice cabinet.
This herb can sometimes be a hard sell. You use one or two in a recipe, and may think, are these really worth it? I can tell you unequivocally, yes, they are worth it. Don’t skip them if they are in a recipe.
It wasn’t until a trip to Italy that I really understood bay leaf. At the end of a dinner, they served you a few tastes of herbal liqueurs made on the property from ingredients in the garden. I chose three and one of them was, “alloro”.
That was my favorite taste, but I didn’t know what alloro was. Naturally, I had to google it. To my shock and surprise, it was bay laurel aka the plant the leaves I use in my cooking come from.
Whether dry, fresh, or ground (or distilled into a gorgeous liqueur) they have a pungent flavor and an herbaceous and floral fragrance. Most people would liken them to a mix of oregano and thyme.
Here are some great recipes using bay leaves:
- Garlic Confit
- Red Beans and Rice
- Pickling Spice (How to Make Your Own Pickling Spice)
- Slow Cooker Beef Stew
- Apple French Onion Soup
Can they kill you?
The type sold for culinary purposes cannot kill you. I wouldn’t recommend eating them, but if you get a mouthful of one when you are eating, don’t sweat it.
Do bay leaves really do anything?
Absolutely, without a doubt, they do a lot. They are often added to heavy and bold dishes and stocks to give a hint of herbal, almost minty bitterness when added to a hot liquid that helps to round out the flavor.
And while that flavor isn’t going to smack you in the face and say, “Hey, I’m bay leaf,” it is essential for layering flavor.
Where can I get bay leaves?
Fresh bay laurel might be available at your local farmers market, but these are fewer and farther between. I know some friends with kind neighbors who have gardens and like to share their resources. If you happen to be one of those lucky people, they will last about a week in the fridge.
Thankfully, dried bay leaves are easily found in the spice aisle of the grocery store.
How long do bay leaves last in your pantry?
You can bank on these being potent for cooking for at least two years in your spice cabinet.
What can you substitute bay leaves for?
If you are fresh out, simply substitute ¼ tsp of dried thyme or oregano for each bay leaf the recipe calls for.