Definitions

culinarily

Bay leaf

Bay leaf (plural bay leaves), Greek Daphni, Romanian Foi de Dafin; is the aromatic leaf of several species of the Laurel family (Lauraceae). Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance.

  • Laurus nobilis, is a culinary herb often used to flavor soups, stews, and braises and pâtés in Mediterranean Cuisine. The fresh leaves are very mild and do not develop their full flavor until several weeks after picking and drying.



  • California bay leaf

The leaf of the California bay tree (Umbellularia californica), also known as 'California laurel', 'Oregon myrtle', and 'pepperwood', is similar to the Mediterranean bay but has a stronger flavor.

  • "Indian bay leaf" (also tej pat, tejpat, tejpata तेजपत्ता or Tamalpatra तमालपत्र)

The leaf of the Cinnamomum tejpata (malabathrum) tree is similar in fragrance and taste to cinnamon bark, but milder. In appearance, it is similar to the other bay leaves but is culinarily quite different, having an aroma and flavor more similar to that of Cassia. It is inaccurately called a bay leaf as it is of a different genus (though the same family) as the bay laurel.

  • "Indonesian bay leaf" or "Indonesian laurel" (salam leaf)

The leaf of Syzygium polyanthum. Used mostly in dry form although the fresh one gives the "right" flavor. The leaf used in certain soups or steamed preparations. Like Indian bay leaf, it is also an inaccurate name because, unlike bay leaf, the plant belongs to Myrtaceae.

Taste and aroma

If eaten whole, bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. The flavor of the California bay leaf is a bit more intense and bitter than the Grecian variety. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable in cooked foods than the taste. When dried, the fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and somewhat similar to oregano and thyme. Myrcene, which is a component of many essential oils used in perfumery, can be extracted from the bay leaf. The flavor and aroma of bay leaves owes in large part to the essential oil eugenol.

Culinary use

Bay leaves are a fixture in the cooking of many European cuisines (particularly those of the Mediterranean), as well as in North America. They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. The leaves also flavor classic French dishes such as bouillabaise and bouillon. The leaves are most often used whole (sometimes in a bouquet garni), and removed before serving. In Indian cuisine bay leaves are often used in biryani and many salads.

Bay leaves can also be crushed (or ground) before cooking. Crushed bay leaves impart more of their desired fragrance than whole leaves, and there is less chance of biting into a leaf directly.

History/region of origin

Ancient Greeks and Romans crowned victors with wreaths of laurel. The term "baccalaureate," meaning laurel berry, refers to the ancient practice of honoring scholars and poets with garlands from the bay laurel tree. Romans felt the leaves protected them against thunder and the plague. Later, Italians and the English believed bay leaves brought good luck and warded off evil. The given name and surname "Laurence" is derived from the Roman name for the plant and the honorary practices using its boughs of leaves and berries. Other versions of the name are "Lawrence", "Loritz", "Laritz" and the Hungarian "Lorinc." In Scandinavian languages "Laurence" became the common "Lars", and the Finnish equivalent is "Lauri".

Facts

Mountain laurel leaves are poisonous to certain livestock and are not sold anywhere as a culinary herb (Britannica). This has led to the mistaken belief that bay leaves should be removed from food after cooking because they might poison humans. Bay leaves are safe to eat. However, a person may accidentally swallow a leaf; and since the leaves remain stiff, even after several hours of cooking, this sometimes causes cutting of the larynx and should be avoided.

Bay leaves are used scattered in pantries to repel meal moths.

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