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Jan 7, 2003 01:37 PM

What do bay leaves do for you?

  • s

Bay leaves seem like an extra ingredient added to soups and stocks but is generally not necessary. What do they contribute? Jalapenos give dishes a zing, butter gives richness, but what do bay leaves do for a dish?

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  1. This is a really good question because it applies to many ingredients that on thier own may not appear to bring much to the flavors of sauces and stocks. I also wondered about the importance of the number of bay leaves and how specific but yet variable they are from dish to dish.
    To learn more about the impact of bay leaves, try using them to the extremes. First, omit them from a basic sauce with which you are very familar in how it tastes. Then, add fives times the amount the second time. Once, you identify the single taste it brings to each dish, I think you will have a better appreciation.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Shoeman

      The best way to appreciate bay leaves is to use the fresh variety. They are very aromatic and lend a wonderful flavor to beans, stews, soups, etc.

      1. re: butterfly

        I agree. This year we learned that we had a bay leaf tree in our backyard and I got to experience fresh leaves for the first time. What a difference!

        1. re: butterfly

          Though you should realize that if what you have is California bay, rather than Turkish bay, most recipes prefer the latter to the former, because California bay has more intrusive menthol flavors than Turkish. (Reminds me of the difference between Mexican and Mediterranean oregano: each has its cuisine....)

      2. j
        JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

        As far as I can tell, it's like having a harp in an orchestra. You can't really hear the harp while they're playing, but if you take it out you could swear something's missing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

          That's a really good analogy. Bay leaves provide "body" to the flavor of soups and sauces.

        2. I even throw a few in the pot when I'm boiling up potatoes for mashing or potato salad.

          1. I always add them to beans.

            1. I've been inordinately bothered by this question because if you can't taste bay leaves in things, there must be so many other things you can't taste. I had to come back to it because I can only think that your bay leaves are really old and tasteless.

              If they're brown and have no smell, not leathery dark green and aromatic, they are too old. Throw them out and get new ones.