Bay leaves are distinguished by their dark green coloring, ovate and pointed shape, wavy margins and glossy finish (due to the volatile oil, cineole). The leaves range in lengths from 4 to 10 cm. Fresh Bay leaves are often more potent than dried leaves, emitting a pungent and sharp taste, especially if eaten whole.
Dried Bay leaves will lose that pungency, yet because the leaves become brittle and sharp, they are not suited for eating. Dried Bay leaves become matte finished and olive in coloring.
Bay leaves are the foliage of the shrub-like tree, Bay Laurel, botanical name Laurus nobilis, which belongs to the avocado family, Lauraceae. It is important to note that there are three other plants that are referred to and substituted for the Laurel Bay leaf, the Indian, Indonesian and California “Bay” leaf trees. Only the California Bay tree is of the same family as the Laurel. Though similar in appearance, they do not carry the same flavor profiles or culinary attributes.
Bay leaves are one of the quintessential ingredients in a cook’s arsenal as they have become a backbone of cuisines from all over the world. This is because no other ingredient can replicate the bay leaf’s culinary virtues. Bay leaves contain the volatile compound, estragole, which provokes a soothing element to balance heat and spice while also adding depth by enhancing the perception of acidity and savory components of a dish. Bay leaves are a fixture in classic stocks, sauces, soups and stews.
They become a trifecta ingredient alongside garlic and olive oil when preparing slow cooked legumes and meats as well as pan-fried seafood such as shrimp and white fish. Crushed Bay leaves impart more flavor than whole, yet they should applied within a tea infuser or cheese cloth. Fresh Bay leaves will provide more flavor than dried leaves.
Health Benefits Of Bay Leaves
Some of the most impressive health benefits of bay include their ability to detoxify the body, slow the aging process, speed wound healing, protect the body from bacterial infections, manage diabetes, improve heart health, reduce inflammation, alleviate respiratory issues, optimize digestion, and prevent certain types of cancer.
Digestive Health: They have a very strong effect on the gastrointestinal system, both stimulating urination as a diuretic, which decreases the toxicity of the body, but also stimulating vomiting (as an emetic) when something toxic has been consumed.
Furthermore, the organic compounds found in bay leaves are very effective for settling upset stomachs, soothing irritable bowel syndrome, or even lessening the symptoms of Celiac’s disease. Some of the more complex proteins in our modern diet can be difficult to digest, but the unique enzymes found in bay leaves help to facilitate efficient digestion and nutrient intake.
Respiratory Conditions: When the essential oil of bay leaves is extracted, it can be mixed into a salve and applied to the chest to help alleviate various respiratory conditions. This can also be achieved with a poultice made of the leaves. Spread it on the chest and allow it to remain overnight.
Inhaling the vapors has a similar effect to aromatherapy and can loosen up phlegm and eliminate dangerous bacteria that may be trapped in your respiratory tracts thanks to its natural antibacterial quality.
Hair Health: If you want to improve the health of your hair follicles and eliminate dandruff, steep bay leaves in water and then rub that on your scalp after shampooing. The chemicals and volatile ingredients in bay leaves can help to eliminate dry skin and dandruff.
Cancer Prevention: The unique combination of antioxidants and organic compounds in bay leaves, including phytonutrients, catechins, linalool, and parthenolide, helps to protect the body from the effects of free radicals. Free radicals can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells, which bay leaves are particularly adept at preventing.
Anxiety and Stress: One of the least commonly known benefits of bay leaves is their naturally soothing quality. Linalool is often associated with thyme and basil, but it is also present in bay leaves and can help to lower the level of stress hormones in the body, especially when used in aromatherapy. Excess stress hormones can be dangerous for long-term health, so bay leaves can help you calm down and remain relaxed even in your most high-anxiety moments.
Diabetes Management: Bay leaves have been directly connected with improved insulin receptor function and regulated blood sugar levels. For patients at risk of developing diabetes or for those who have already developed the condition, regular consumption of bay leaves can significantly lower the chances of diabetic episodes.
A Final Word of Warning: As mentioned earlier, “bay leaf” is a commonly used term that applies to many different plants around the world; however, to achieve all of the health benefits listed above, it is essential that you find true bay leaf, derived from the laurel tree, with the scientific name Laurus nobilis.
Other varieties can actually be toxic when consumed, so be certain that you’re getting the real thing! In terms of allergies, bay leaves aren’t widely known as an allergenic substance, but contact dermatitis and eczema breakouts have been sporadically reported. If you’re allergic to other members of the Lauraceae family, you will likely be allergic to bay leaves as well.
Olive-Oil-Braised Red Onions with Bay Leaves
A splash of vinegar keeps these onions tasting bright, even a little sweet and sour, and the bay leaf gives them a pleasant earthiness. They make a delicious accompaniment to grilled pork chops or steak.
- 1-1/2 lb. red onions (about 3 medium), trimmed, halved vertically, and cut into 2/3-inch wedges
- 3 dried bay leaves, each torn into 3 pieces
- 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-1/2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbs. dry white wine (like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)
- Kosher salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.
Arrange the onion wedges in an overlapping single layer in a shallow 10×15-inch baking dish. Nestle the bay leaves among the onions. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar, white wine, and 1-1/2 Tbs. water and drizzle over the onions. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tsp. salt. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.
Braise the onions in the oven until completely tender when pierced close to the root ends with a fork, about 45 minutes. Uncover the dish and continue to braise until all of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are darkly roasted and glossy, about 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and serve the onions warm or at room temperature.
Make Ahead Tips
The onions will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Add to a salad: Chill and toss with arugula, toasted walnuts, and lemon vinaigrette.
Stir into tuna: Chop and mix with olive-oil-packed tuna, capers, and a touch of mayonnaise.
Serve as crostini: Spread goat cheese on toasted peasant bread or baguette slices and top with the onions.
nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 160, Fat (kcal): 10, Fat Calories (g): 90, Saturated Fat (g): 1.5, Protein (g): 2, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 7, Carbohydrates (mg): 15, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 1, Sodium (g): 290, Cholesterol (g): 0, Fiber (g): 3,