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Bay leaves, to eat or not?

I've always heard that your have to remove bay leaves after preparing food, before they can be eaten. They never soften and could possibly get stuck in a person throat and injure them. But I've been served restaurant food containing intact bay leaves. So what's a cook to do?

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  1. Pull the bay leaves. If you wind up with one on your plate anyway, set it aside. Politely. ;)

    1. Bay leaves are not for eating.

      Sometimes they're left in food to intensify the bay flavor, but if you are served food with a bay leaf in it, remove the leaf before eating.

      1. Unless they are fresh off the tree and shredded they won't soften enough to eat - dried they tend to remain quite sharp edged and tough but there is nothing inherently poisonous or dangerous other than their texture.

        4 Replies
        1. re: OCEllen

          so if you fancy intestinal bleeding, eat away. strangely, they get sharper in the belly...

          1. re: Chowrin

            Seriously? Intestinal bleeding?? :|

              1. re: sunshine842

                That's harsh. From a stupid leaf at that...

        2. people foolish enough to swallow them whole will live and probably not even notice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sushigirlie

            you should get that translated into some other language so it sounds pithy.

            preferably one that can make it rhyme.

          2. If you find the whole bay leaf or large pieces in something that's served to you it is best to simply remove them and set them aside. They are essetially inedible. However, if you've enjoyed Indian food, you have probably eaten some without knowing it as it is used in some formulas for garam masala. But that's ground so fine I doubt you'd even detect its physical presence.

            1. I did have a friend choke on one at dinner with us. So this is not a purely theoretical concern.

              There were some very anxious moments until it dislodged.

              1 Reply
              1. re: karykat

                I'm curious how one might swallow one, arriving in the mouth I understand (I've done that), but if one chews, one ought to detect it. it's like finding a piece of wood veneer or crab shell.

                I guess mommy WAS right: chew 24 times slowly.

              2. And be sure to remove the bay leaves before you blend or stick blend a soup! I once plunged a stick blender into pea soup (simmered with a bay leaf or two) and ruined the whole batch!

                1. If it's whole leaf it should never be eaten as the spine can perforate the intestine. Leaving a leaf in is sloppy finish work, and I'd just set mine aside and take note.

                  1. I could swear that recently I saw Jamie Oliver buzzing something up with a bay leaf in it....said it was no biggie (I didn't believe it).

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: monavano

                      There is a place for inclusion of the bay leaves (like peppercorns and other whole spices in finished dishes where they are decorative , traditional and their presence is indicative of how the dish is seasoned. For example, indian rice dishes and some italian dishes where the bay leaves are a major seasoning. Personally in my home cooking I like to see the bay leaves.

                      I use whole fresh bay leaves in some dishes - they also are to coarse to swallow.
                      All bay leaves, fresh or dried can be deveined, torn or crumbled and blended into a sauce. Its a great flavor component if you want it and a shame to pull unnecessarily.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        see above mention of whole bay leaves having the ability to perforate intestines if ingested.

                        Grind 'em fine or pick 'em out...but don't' eat them.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          Odd, isn't it, that dried bay leaves are only sold whole, rather than also having a ground option, like cloves or mustard seed? Perhaps ethnic or specialty spice purveyors have it, but supermarkets sure don't.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            I was once given a spice set that had crumbled bay leaves. I dumped them because those little buggers are sharp too.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Ground Bay- definitely at the ethnic stores.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                Badia brand of spices has a ground bay leaf product. It's in my spice cabinet at the moment. Can be found in the supermarket in our area.

                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  Badia is based in San Juan, PR -- so their products mostly appear in Latin communities....it's found everywhere in Florida, but just a little FYI if you can't find it near you. (and their spices are good and generally cheaper than McCormick!)

                              2. re: sunshine842

                                <Grind 'em fine or pick 'em out...but don't' eat them>


                                Yep. I buy larger size pouches of Bay leaves at my local Indian grocer.
                                I pull all the large bay leaves and store in jars keeping one jar in my pantry and others in the freezer til needed.
                                The smaller leaves I toss in my spice grinder and grind until ultra fine.

                                I love using the finely ground bay in quick dishes where there is not enough length of time for the leaf's flavor to be absorbed into the liquid.

                                The smell of the ground bay is awesome and uses up the small or broken dried leaves that many would normally pitch.



                                1. re: jjjrfoodie

                                  It does take time to extract the flavor from bay leaf. I recently made yellow split-pea soup and forgot the bay leaf until about 30 min before it was done. It was a noticable lack of flavor.
                                  I kept the bay leaves in the leftover soup and eventually it righted itself.

                                  1. re: monavano

                                    I think sauteeing them (as per indian and some other recipes) before adding to the dish also helps heighten and extract the flavor.
                                    The flavor does tend to come out more over time - as with other whole spices.

                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                      Great idea. For some reason, I have not thought to do this as I do with other spices.

                                      1. re: jen kalb

                                        i saw sara moulton and jasper white sauteeing the bay leaves in oil while making a portuguese clam dish -- cataplana. http://saramoulton.com/2010/11/catapl... jasper said that it is regularly done in portuguese cookery.

                                        it struck me that i hadn't considered this somewhat obvious step before -- after all, i do it with indian food, or curry pastes, or even rice

                              3. re: monavano

                                Maybe he was using fresh ones. I don't know how it is in the UK, but here in Spain, you don't even pay for fresh bay leaves. They will throw a branch of them in for free when you buy meat at the market and they are very soft--I don't think I'd eat one whole, but you could definitely buzz one up.

                              4. I pulverize bay leaves in my spice grinder to make Herbes de Provence and so on, and obviously use whole for other dishes and pick 'em out.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: chefathome

                                  I hope not - HdP has savoury, basil, thyme, and fennel. No bay (and no lavender).

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Several recipes I have include bay, although I know it is not traditional HdP, but I really do prefer adding it. My favourite version also excludes fennel (from a friend from Provence). Just personal preference.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      I've seen recipes for HdP that called for both, optional.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        jacques pepin, whom i consider my guru of french cooking -- said *some* blends of herbs de provence do have lavender added. i've always paid attention to this issue since i was served a lavender creme brulee in a napa valley restaurant (and i didn't like the lavender).

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          the stuff in the tourist shops and sold in the US has lavender.

                                          the stuff you buy in French supermarkets does not. My French friends think it's weird to eat lavender -- it's used here in cleaning products and in clothing storage (closets and drawers) to repel moths and make them smell nice.

                                          (this is not anti-tourist; it's an observation.)

                                          I'm with you, alkapal, I don't like the taste, but I LOVE the smell throughout the house.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            Lavender is not a food flavor to me, although I did have dark chocolate lavender toffee that was quite good. Lavender flavored everything is a food trend.

                                            Back to bay leaves, the fresher the better. Fresh dried is fine, if they are the color of a cedar shingle, toss them.

                                            The first time I saw dried bay in a spice blend I got frightened, the same way you felt in grade school when you saw a mantis and everyone said jail time was mandatory if you hurt it.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              "My French friends think it's weird to eat lavender -- it's used here in cleaning products and in clothing

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                sorry, Will -- were you trying to say something? ;)

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Yes, and when I tried to edit it the formatting went to hell, and I was unable to copy/paste anything into the box. Let's try again -

                                                  In response to your statement about French people and lavender: Mrs. O is mildly addicted to a French brand of lavender pastilles, which would indicate that this is not a flavor unknown in France. Furthermore, her father used to import Pommery mustard and other French condiments, including a brand of herbes de Provence called Les Anytieres du Roy (I think I'm remembering that properly; too lazy to run down and look at the bottles we have left) that most emphatically had lavender as a major ingredient. The name I'm assuming is an antique variety of French, which means that either the company is/was very old or simply wanted to give that impression.

                                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                                    No, it's not unknown...but it's uncommon and not popular. You can nearly always find an exception somewhere -- but looking at the volume of lavender available as raw materials and the dearth of edible products using same -- it's not hard to draw the conclusion that there's not much demand.

                                      2. I had a recipe for roast chicken cooked with lemon and sage, but mixed up bay leaves with sage, probably because I had a package of not-so-fresh bay leaves that had been in my refrigerator veggie bin for a couple of months. I washed leaves, discarded the ones turning brown and minced the good ones -- about 25 of 'em -- with a sharp knife. Mixed them with butter, which I then spread under the skin of the chicken before roasting. The results were delicious. No chewy bits of bay, no intestinal bleeding, just a great, aromatic bird.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: katzzz

                                          ahh but you were dealing with freshy-ish, not dried right? still sounds good either way. I'd try that.

                                        2. There was a thread awhile back with a post about some idiot doctor who was suing a restaurant because they hadn't warned him not to eat all of the artichoke they served him. He somehow managed to eat the leaves whole (which can't have been easy) and wound up in the hospital. You'd expect a doctor to have more sense.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                            idiot, yes (to quote in that shrill voice) "that's why they call it the 'choke' " - Julia Child

                                            1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                              i need to check on that case. the thread was called "DUMB diners"…

                                              1. most Indian recipes have bay leaves in them and rarely have I seen an Indian pull them out while they are eating. If they are large enough, I probably would pull them out, but I have eaten many and am still here typing.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: ROCKLES

                                                  I've seen that guy who eats glass and nails, too...but that doesn't mean I'm going to take it up as a hobby.