January 2, 2015
BAY LEAVES / LORBEER BLÄTTER
Who ever payed some attention in history class – or read Asterix comics – knows bay from the Romans and Greeks who wore laurel wreaths as a symbol of high status. A wreath of bay laurels was given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honor of Apollo [laurel being one of his symbols].
Bay is an aromatic evergreen [nativ to the Mediterranean region] with leathery, dark-green, shiny leaves. It’s also known as Apollo’s Bay Leaf, Bay, Bay Laurel, Grecian Laurel, Indian Bay, Laurel, Nobel Laurel, Poet’s Laurel, Roman Laurel, Royal Laurel, Sweet Bay, Sweet Laurel and Wreath Laurel.
The two main varieties of bay leaf are Turkish [1.5 to 3 cm long oval leaves] and Californian [narrow 3 to 4.5 cm long leaves]. The Turkish bay leaves have a more subtle flavor than the California variety.
Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves are often used to flavor soups, stews and braises in Mediterranean cuisine. If eaten whole, bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable than its taste. When dried [leaves will have a matted olive green], the fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and somewhat similar to oregano and thyme. Overuse of this herb can make a dish bitter.
If you cook little with bay you will have a hard time figuring out what flavor it really adds to your stew, soup, … If you cook bay leaves in plain water for a few minutes – you will get a good hit of menthol and eucalyptus. If you cook it for longer [like an hour] – the strong menthol smell will taper down, while more complex tea-like aromas will start to come forward. Bay is more of a subtle background flavor to your stew.
The best description I found was – a spice with a bit of mint, a bit of thyme, some oregano, and aspects of coriander and clove. Just like allspice sings backup to cinnamon and nutmeg, bay brings the best out of warm spices and meaty flavors.
Bay leaves are one of the few things that are actually in season year round. And since dried bay leaves work perfectly well there is no need to buy them at a specific date.
SHOPPING + STORAGE
Some members of the laurel family, as well as the unrelated but visually similar ‘mountain laurel’ and ‘cherry laurel’, have leaves that are poisonous to humans and livestock. While these plants are not sold anywhere for culinary use, their visual similarity to bay leaves might be a problem when you want to pick them yourself.
In the spice stores, you might come across different kinds of bay leaf preparations. Completely dried – dried and crushed – freeze-dried – fresh and ground. Try to avoid those with off-smell, spots, or fungus infected leaves.
Traditionally, bay leaves are picked and dried slowly under the shade away from direct sunlight. The leaves can be used fresh – however, they are at their best after being allowed to wilt for a few days – when their bitterness has gone but the leaves still retain their aroma.
Whole, dry bay leaves have a long shelf life – about one year under normal temperature and humidity [keep away from direct sunlight]. After a year the leaves will start to lose flavor.
Fresh bay leaves are best stored in the freezer.
Bay leaves are used almost exclusively as flavor agents during the food preparation stage.
The leaves are most often used whole and removed before serving [they may pose a risk of scratching the digestive tract or even cause choking]. Bay leaves can also be crushed or ground before cooking. Crushed bay leaves impart more of their desired fragrance than whole leaves, but are more difficult to remove [use them in a muslin bag or tea infuser]. Ground bay laurel may be substituted for whole leaves, and does not need to be removed – but it is much stronger due to the increased surface area and in some dishes the texture may not be desirable. Substitute ¼ teaspoon crushed bay leaves for one whole bay leaf.
Bay leaves are essential to Mediterranean cuisine – tomato sauces, béchamel, seafood, poultry, meat, rice and vegetable dishes. Use it to season soups, stews, casseroles, marinades – any long-cooking dishes really! But you will also find this herb in many Indian [garam masala] and Filipino [adabo] recipes. In Europe it is often used as a pickling spice.
Ground bay leaves are a common addition to ‘Bloddy Mary’.
Bay matches especially well with beans, game, lentils, potatoes, risotto, shellfish, cloves and tomatoes. Try steaming vegetables, fish, seafood or chicken in a steamer together with bay leaves.
Though bay is best known for savory dishes it can be used in sweet dishes like custards, creams, ice creams, crème brûlée, or sweet breads. These dishes enhance the sweet perfume qualities of bay and bring out its spicier attributes – its notes of clove and allspice.
The spice contains many notable plants derived compounds, minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. They have multiple compounds that are known to be antiseptic, anti-oxidant, digestive, and thought to have anti-cancer properties. Fresh leaves are very rich source of Vitamin C + A and folic acid. This noble spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium.
In the Middle Ages it was believed to induce abortions and to have many magical qualities. It was once used to keep moths away, owing to the leafs lauric acid content which gives it insecticidal properties. Bay leaf has many properties which make it useful for treating high blood sugar, migraine headaches, bacterial and fungal infections, and gastric ulcers.
Medicinally, the benefits of the bay leaf and its berries are plentiful. It has astringent, diuretic, and appetite stimulant properties. Infusions of herb parts are reputed to soothe the stomach and relieve flatulence and colic pain.
As always I try to include a the nutritional values [usually copied from the Wikipedia page] – but here it feels kind of strange. Seriously – who eats 100g of bay leaves. If you do so you will probably have bigger problems than the high amount of calories…
Nutritional value per 100g [% of Daily Value]