November 24, 2020

What Are Bay Leaves and How to Use Them

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Bay leaves are one of the most noticeably inconspicuous spice that it is used for cooking but not sure why? So what are bay leaves and why is it such a popular spice even though there is an uncertainty about it’s use as a flavour enhancer.

What is bay leaves

You don’t need to be a spice connoisseur to know that bay leaf is well ……A Leaf!!

It comes from the laurel tree.

What many are unaware about is that Indian bay leaves are different to laurel bay leaves.

Indian bay leaves are a staple in any Indian kitchen while laurel leaves are popular in the western cuisines.

Although leaves, they primarily fall under the spice category but some also refer them to as herbs.

What is Bay Leaf and How is it Different From Indian Bay Leaves?

An interesting fact about laurel leave and Indian bay leaves or ‘tej patta’ is that both are known as ‘Bay Leaves’

Not only do they come from different plant source they also have different taste and flavour.

Having subtle differences between the two they can very easily be mistaken one for the other.

So keep that in mind when you buy a particular type of bay leaf.

The table below clarifies the difference between the two in one glance.

Laurel Leaf Indian Bay Leaf
Image dried laurel leaf Indian tej Patta
Leaf Appearance and Size shorter, and pale green in colour with one vein going down the middlelonger, pointy and olive green in colour with three long lines running along the length of the leaf.
Tree Source Laurel treeCassia tree
Taste and Flavour slightly minty, pine and lemonytastes more of cinnamon and cloves
Uses in Cooking to make soups, broths and stewsfor making base gravy, curries and sauces
Difference Between Laurel Leaf and Indian Bay Leaves

What is Bay Leaves Called in Other Languages

Bay leaves in English – Laurel leaves, bay leaves, Indian bay leaves

Bay leaves in hindi – Tej patta

Bay leaves in German – Lorbeerblätter

Bay leaves French – Feuilles de laurier

Bay leaves in Spanish – Hojas de laurel

What Do Bay Leaves Taste Like

Bay leaves both Indian and laurel are mild and aromatic spice or herb.

It is used to add fragrance to dish as opposed to any taste.

In fact it does very little to the taste and hence the debate on ‘Why do you need bay leaf at all’?’

My response to this is that you won’t miss bay leaves in a dish if you don’t add it but a good aromatic leaf does add a hint of flavour to the dish esp when cooked in broth or sauce.

In terms of the flavour they are a cross between being ever so slightly minty and woody.

Bay leaves falls into the warm/ sweet spice category.

Which means that it is a popular spice to use as a base ingredient to make spice mixes and blends.

Types of Bay Leaves

Bay leaves come is different forms.

They can be classified into:

Fresh Laurel leaves

fresh bay leaf – They are the leaves fresh off the tree so more of a herb as opposed to spice. They tend to have a stronger flavour than the dried version.

Indian tej Patta
Dried Indian Bay Leave

dried bay leaves – They are the most common type of form bought and used for cooking. They are the long dried version of the fresh leaves.

Dried bay leaves powder
Bay Leaves Powder

ground bay leaves – This is when dried bay leaves are ground into powder form. This form of bay leaves in not extensively used in cooking.It is mostly used for making spice blends and rubs.

In Indian cooking it is the dried whole leaf that is used the most .

How To Use Them for Cooking

The use of bay leaves in cooking both Indian and laurel are the same.

To get the best of bay leaves add them in hot oil or butter and stir it for few seconds to flavour the fat.

You can also add whole bay leaves to boiling broth, sauce or liquid and simmer until the dish is cooked.

You can crush or cut bay leaves into small pieces before adding them to a dish if you wish.

However in doing so it becomes difficult to fish it out of the dish later.

Depending on the type of bay leaves used in the recipe I suggest replacing or using with the appropriate quantity:

1 fresh bay leaf – 2- 3 whole dried leaves or 1/2 tsp ground version

1 dried bay leaf – 1/4 tsp ground bay leaf or 1 fresh bay leaf

1 tsp ground bay leaf – 3 dried or 1 fresh bay leaf.

It is a basic ingredient for making the base gravy of most Indian dishes.  They are used to make curries, soups and stews.

Also a popular spice for making spice rubs and spice blends for marinades, spice mixes and sauces.

Although they are classified as a spice or herb, it wont be a pleasant experience to swallow a whole leave, unless you accept a challenge or show your talent.

It is best to remove bay leaves from the dish before serving.

 Read about 28 Essential Indian Spices and How to Use Them for Cooking. 

Health Benefits of  Bay Leaves

There isn’t much scientific evidence to support the health benefits of bay leaves.

However it is believed that bay leaves may have some benefits.

Help in maintaining low glucose levels – Bay leaves contain polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. They are known to be effective in lowering and managing glucose levels in people with diabetes.

May help heal wounds –  A research conducted on rats showed that the essential oils derived from bay leaves can help in healing minor wounds and cuts and reduce inflammation.

May prevent cancer– A research published in Nutrition and Cancer shows bay leaf extracts as a potential natural agent that can help kill the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Aids in Digestion – The enzymes present in bay leaves may help eliminate an upset tummy and soothe irritable bowel syndrome, reducing bloating and gas.

Best Food Pairing with Bay Leaves

Being a mild aromatic spice or herb, bay leaves is a versatile spice and goes well with any food item and mostly all spices.

Best food pairing: beans, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, ginger,chicken, lamb, meat, dairy products, couscous, lentils, rice, soups, stews,curry,

Best spice pairing: asafoetida, cardamom, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cumin seeds, dry chilies, mustard seeds

Spice Substitute for Bay leaves

Because of the subtle flavour of this spice, in my opinion you can still make a dish even if you do not have bay leave as the main listed ingredient.

One has the option to either omit them from the recipe if you wish.

However, the following spices can be used as an alternative to ground or whole bay leaves.

1/2 inch of Cinnamon stick, 1/2 tsp of fresh or dried thyme leaves, allspice berries or juniper berries too serve as good alternatives.

 You may also like to read about the Best Spice Substitutes for Hard to Find Indian Spices 

Where to Buy Them ?

Depending on the type of bay leaves you wish to buy, they are easily available at most supermarkets.

However, you will have to visit an Indian grocery store to buy Indian bay leaves or tej patta.

Wherever you choose to buy it make sure it is from a trusted source.

The leaves should be bright and not too pale in colour.

Check the manufacturer date as old bay leaves tends to have less taste.

Ensure that the packs or jars are tightly sealed.

How to Store Bay Leaves

Bay leaves can freshness pretty soon if not stored properly.

Keep it in a tightly sealed glass container, or if it’s in a packet then close the opening of the packet tightly with a clip. 

Store all dried form of bay leaves in a dark, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Fresh bay leaves can be stored in the fridge separate from other strong food substance.

Well stored leaves will keep its character and flavour for a least 6 months.

Recommended Products

Buy Indian bay leaves from Amazon

Easy Recipes with Bay leaves to Try

Indian Moong Daal Fry  

Indian Moong daal fry recipe

Easy Homade Curry Powder 

What is curry powder. homemade curry powder recipe

Your Views and Recipes 

Do you use Bay leaves in your cooking?

I love to hear your kitchen adventures so please share any recipes or tips.

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