The bay leaf – many recipes call for at least one, most call for 2-3 pieces. You add them, not exactly sure why they’re supposed to go into the soup, but they must be doing something. Are they though ? What do they taste like ? Is dried bay more potent than fresh ? How long are you supposed to cook the bay leaves until they release their aroma ?
In truth these herbs have been the trusted for centuries as a cooking aid in most Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and those are some of the most delicious and flavorful dishes out there. Surely bay leaves must be doing something right. So let’s find out.
Do bay leaves do anything ?
Yes, bay leaves do impart flavor to your cooking but they are the kind of flavor that isn’t immediately noticeable, like garlic or dill. Instead bay leaves are meant to have a more subtle flavor that very slowly releases during cooking. The longer you cook your bay leaves the more flavor you get and the more complex it gets. It’s the kind of herb that you can’t detect is there but you will notice something’s missing if you don’t add it.
What do bay leaves taste like ?
Dried bay leaf flavor resembles a mix of dried mint and pine, and have a slight bitterness to them, a sort of earthy flavor. The very light menthol flavor keeps very heavy stews for being overwhelming, like adding rosemary to lamb or mutton.
Fresh bay leaves are much more potent, and very rare to find. But if you do find them they’re closer to a raw eucalyptus leaf than anything else, and they can be very overwhelming in cooking.
Read also: Why Mint Leaves Turn Brown
Are fresh bay leaves better than dried ?
No, fresh bay leaves are not better than dried, since they have a very strong eucalyptus or clove like flavor, and their bitterness is more pronounced. When dried the flavor becomes much milder so it’s a better option.
If you do want to add fresh bay leaves, maybe add only a bit of a leaf, not a whole leaf.
Why do my dried bay leaves have no flavor ?
Dried bay leaves have a subtle flavor, and in some cases it’s entirely possible to miss it. Sometimes it’s because you’ve simply added to little, and this is easily fixed by adding more bay leaves. Just be careful because they may get a little bitter and again, this is a flavor that is meant to be the background for other, more sharp flavors. It’s okay not to immediately notice the bay leaf.
The other reason could be that your bay leaves have simply lost their flavor, which is mostly a storage issue. Bay leaves can evaporate flavor in time, so if you’ bought a packet of dried bay leaves 8 months ago, opened it, and left it open in the pantry, you can kiss those flavors goodbye. All aromatic herbs lose their flavor the longer the package stays open.
Always store them in an airtight container, and if in their original packaging make sure to clamp it shut with a bobby pin. Or, roll it closed and tie it with a jar elastic. Just be careful not to crush the leaves too much. Another option is to simply freeze your bay leaves, and only take out 1-2 at a time, as you need them.
How long does it take for bay leaves to work ?
Bay leaves need low, slow, gentle simmering to fully express all their notes. This herb works best when simmered for an hour at least, but the longer you simmer it the stronger the flavor. Most recipes that call for bay leaves ask you to add the leaves in right as the water is starting to boil, such as a pasta sauce, a chili, a soup, a stew, braise, or anything similar.
Most of the time the bay leaves are left in the pot from the beginning of the cooking time to just before serving, including the time the food is in the fridge. Overall the longer bay leaves sit in the food, the more aroma they release. Removing them is one of the reasons you always see bay leaves in their full leaf form, and not ground up like other herbs. Bay leaves are fairly tough, especially when dried, so not something you want to chew on while eating.
So do bay leaves do anything ? Yes they do, it’s just a rather subtle flavor, especially when compared to other herbs and spices you might add to your cooking. It’s definitely the kind of flavor you notice when it’s missing.