Growing up in England, where the kitchen was ruled by my Filipino mum, the humble Bay Leaf made an appearance in the dishes that would be our dinner, and the food cooked by my aunties for spontaneous parties.
Yet a question I’ve heard many times; from the shared kitchen at university, to potlucks: Do bay leaves make a difference?
Standard culinary bay leaves hail from the Mediterranean and possess the subtle flavour we’re used to (believe me, it’s there!). The other common variety, California bay leaves, are stronger in flavour and often sold fresh as opposed to the dried variety. With California bay leaves the flavour can be very intense, and you run the risk of making your dish taste like cold medicine. However, a friend of mine who loves pickling vegetables, loves to use California bay leaves for a floral hint.
To understand how bay leaves add to a dish, one could try boiling a leaf in a pot of water. Bay leaves contain an essential oil which is released gradually, through a slow simmer, releasing notes of tea-like aromas. This helps round out the flavour in soups, stews, and sauces.
The bay leaf as a person is a supporter, an enhancer, whispering words of support from the sidelines. Like a great friend, they add that dash of flavour you never knew you were missing.
Once you purchase your bay leaves, you can either store them in a cool dry place, or store them in the freezer for up to a year.