Laurus Nobilis: bay leaf also called sweet bay, sweet laurel, laurel leaf or bay laurel.
Each year the International Herb Association [IHA] chooses an herb of the year and I couldn’t let the year slip by without highlighting bay leaf their pick for 2009. Speaking of highlighting things, this month marks our 6th herb of the month here on Raw Epicurean!
At first glance it might not seem that bay leaf is a versatile herb in the raw vegan kitchen, but think again, it does and can be used in multiple ways to add depth of flavor and enhance the taste of a raw vegan dish.
Bay Varieties for Culinary Use
Before we delve into the different ways to use bay, let’s get acquainted with the varieties. Turkish and Californian are two main varieties of culinary bay leaves. Californian bay leaves have narrow leaves and a stronger flavor than the Turkish bay leaves, which feature oval leaves and a subtler flavor.
Note: If you plan on purchasing a bay tree, note that some plants are also called “bay” but may not be the correct plant, so it’s important to be sure you are buying the culinary bay tree Laurus Nobilis.
Dried + Fresh
As mention above, the bay leaf found in most kitchens comes from the bay laurel tree [Laurus Nobilis]. The leaves are generally available dried, but if you can find fresh bay leaf pick some up and give them a try. I’ve never used fresh bay leaf but now more than ever I certainly want to try it. You can sometimes find fresh bay among the fresh herbs in the produce section, or check with your local farmer’s market and ask if they carry or can get fresh bay for you.
In the world of fresh versus dried herbs, dried is usually more intense in flavor than fresh, but surprisingly, not in the case of the bay leaf. Fresh bay is more intense in flavor than dried.
Selecting + Storing
When purchasing dried bay leaves make sure they are not brown, a sign that they are old, and take note that the more faded the leaf color, the more bitter the flavor will taste. For fresher dried bay leaves, look for leaves that are olive green in color. Here is a tip shared by one of my Italian friend’s, “When picking fresh bay leaves, use the older leaves first, they will have more flavor.”
High-quality leaves are aromatic and have a bright green color. Be sure to look for certified organic bay leaves. For storage, place dried bay leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and keep for six months to a year.
Nutritional Profile + Benefits
Even though bay leaves aren’t directly consumed themselves, they do offer vitamin A and C, iron, manganese, and small amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Bay is said to purify food and aid in digestion.
Culinary Use for the Raw Vegan
Now we are getting into best fun part, the fun of using bay leaf. It’s a flavoring staple typically used in cooked dishes. Let’s reference the classic “bouquet garni”, which is a grouping of bay, along with fresh sprigs of thyme, chervil, and parsley, tied together with string and dropped into a pot of sauce, soup, stew, or stock. But to keep within the guidelines of what makes a raw vegan dish raw vegan, the traditional cooking methods used to extract the aromatic flavor of bay goes right out the window. An alternative way to keep within the guidelines and extract bays flavor without heating above 118 degrees is by infusion.
Add a Touch of Bay to Your Next Meal
Here are examples of how to extract the essence of bay and add extra flavor to a number of dishes with one of these bay leaf infusions or powder.
Bay Infused Olive Oil
4 - 5 bay leaves 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Rinse and dry the bay leaf. Crumble dried, tear or cut fresh bay leaf into pieces to release its flavor and aroma, and place in a bowl. Pour the olive oil over the leaves and cover the bowl. Allow it sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for a few days to a week to allow the flavor to infuse with the oil. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavor. When ready to use, strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container with lid. Store your bay infused olive oil at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
4 bay leaves 1 cup fresh water
Most herbs can be made into a tea and bay is no exception. Cut or crumble 1 extra large or 3-4 small/medium bay leaves and place them in a bowl. Fill with one cup of water that is warm to the touch. Cover and steep for about an hour or longer. Strain the bay leaves through a fine-mesh sieve. Store bay water in the refrigerator until ready to use. Use the infused water to add a touch of bay flavor to your next meal. Try it in a raw soup recipe.
Rinse and dry the bay leaf. Crumble dried, tear or cut fresh bay leaf into pieces to release its flavor and aroma, and place in a small bowl or glass jar with lid. Pour the agave over the leaves and cover the bowl/jar. Allow the bay/ agave mixture to sit at room temperature, for a few days to a week. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavor. When ready to use, strain the bay leaf syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container with lid. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Bay Leaf Powder
Rinse and thoroughly dry 8 - 10 bay leaves, or more if needed. Using a coffee grinder, grind the leaves to a fine powder. Store in a tightly sealed container. Should keep up to three month.
To use bay leaf powder: add 1/4 teaspoon or more, to taste, or depending on the amount called for in a recipe, to a savory juice, smoothie, or raw soup.
If you have other ideas for using bay leaf, let’s talk about them. Have you ever had bay leaf tea. Isn’t it fun and exciting all the cool ways we can use herbs?
Herb of the Month Giveaway
At the end of this month, one of your names will be drawn from the comment section of this post, and our wonderful sponsor Mountain Rose Herbs will send a gift of bay leaf products to the winning participant. Thank you, good luck, and have fun experimenting with the flavor of bay leaf!