Why cook with bay leaves? 

Journal Article
Author(s): Charles Spence
Year: 2023

Bay (laurel nobilis L.) is a popular culinary herb in many parts of the world. It has been suggested that the addition of bay leaves to a dish during (prolonged) cooking delivers a pungent (some would say strong) combination of pine, clove (spicy), floral (lavender), and eucalyptus notes. Often, chefs say that bay leaves add depth to a dish and that something is missing if the leaves are left out, thus suggesting that it may act as a kind of ‘flavour enhancer’. At the same, time, however, other commentators, including a number of chefs and spice experts question what, if anything, bay leaves add to a dish, suggesting that it has no taste/flavour whatsoever. Chefs and recipes also appear divided on the question of whether fresh or dry leaves impart a better, or more intense, flavour. Drying and storage conditions, as well as age, terroir, and seasonal effects (i.e., where, and at what time of year, the leaves were picked) all contribute to the volatile essential oils associated with this ubiquitous herb/ spice. Adding to the confusion, in North America, California bay leaf (Umbellularia californica) is often used in place of the European variety (Laurus nobilis L.) despite having a distinct aroma/flavour profile. Any one of these factors may help to explain the marked differences concerning the perceived culinary value of bay in cooking. The point remains, however, that despite being a ubiquitous culinary herb, bay appears to divide popular opinion more than seemingly any other herb/spice.