A brief guide to bay leaves including nutritional information and uses in the kitchen.
Bay leaves are a wonderful addition to any soup, sauce, stew or casserole. They are mainly used dry and are just thrown into the pot and allowed to impart their rich and aromatic flavour.
The bay leaf that we use in cooking is actually the dried leaf of the Bay Laurel tree (Laurus Nobililis). This is why bay leaves can also be known as sweet bay, sweet laurel, laurel leaf or bay laurel.
The bay laurel tree is native to Asia Minor but is now grown all over the Mediterranean, as it is suited to warm climates. There are two main types of bay leaf - the Mediterranean bay leaf and the Californian bay leaf. The Californian bay leaf is much stronger in flavour and the Mediterranean bay leaf is widely used in Mediterranean-style cooking.
The bay leaf is one of the herbs and ingredients that make up a "bouquet garni". A bouquet garni is a bunch of herbs that is tied together with string and placed into a stock, sauce or stew whilst cooking. It is used to add flavour to the dish and the bundle is removed before serving and discarded.
History of the bay leaf
Although the bay leaf was not introduced to England until the sixteenth century, it has been around since ancient Greek and Roman times.
In fact, the bay leaf was held in such high esteem that victors of battle, sport and study were crowned with garlands of laurel, as a symbol of their success. This is where the term "baccalaureate" originates from and it is now referred to when students have successfully completed their schooling years.
Vitamin and mineral content of the bay leaf
Although bay leaves are only used a few at a time and are not actually consumed themselves, they still provide a number of vitamins and minerals to a dish through cooking.
Bay leaves are a good source of Vitamins A and C and also contain significant amounts of iron and manganese in particular, as well as smaller amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Health benefits of the bay leaf
In ancient times bay leaves were used medicinally for a number of things. They were used for ailments of the liver, kidney and stomach and were also thought to alleviate wasp and bee stings.
Nowadays, bay leaves are still used by herbalists to treat even more illnesses and complaints than ever. Below is a list of how bay leaves are used curatively today:
- A cloth soaked in boiled bay leaves in water, which is placed on the chest can relieve chest infections, flu, coughs and bronchitis.
- Massage bay leaf essential oil onto affected areas to relieve sprains, swellings, backache and arthritic and rheumatic pains.
- An infusion of bay leaves will promote sweating, which will help clear up flu and feverish symptoms.
- Bay leaves settle the stomach and help to treat digestive disorders.
- They are useful for proper digestion and can reduce flatulence.
- They can help to breakdown and digest certain food types such as proteins.
- A bay leaf rinse can help to treat dandruff.
Ideas for using bay leaves in the kitchen
Bay leaves are never eaten themselves and are really just used to add extra flavour to a number of dishes. Bay leaves can be used in the following ways:
- Prepare a bouquet garni and add to soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.
- Use in pickling solutions.
- Add to boiling water for shrimp, crab and other seafood.
- Use in marinades for meat and fish.
- Add to milk when preparing homemade rice puddings or other milk puddings.
Bay Leaf Recipes
A collection of recipes that include bay leaves as one of their ingredients including recipes for lamb kebabs, salmon fillet and roast duck
Lamb Kebabs with Herbs
Making and eating these lamb kebabs is fun and this dish is especially popular with children. Try cooking the kebabs on a hot barbeque in the summer; otherwise they can be cooked under a grill
- 2 lb 4 oz (1 kg) of leg of lamb meat trimmed of fat
- 3 tbsp of olive oil
- 3 tbsp of natural yoghurt
- 2 tbsp of freshly chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp of dried oregano
- 4 fresh bay leaves
- 2 crumbled dried bay leaves
- 2 crushed cloves of garlic
- juice of ½ lemon
- salt and pepper
- For the cucumber and yoghurt sauce
- ½ pint (300 ml) of natural yoghurt
- ½ peeled and finely chopped cucumber
- 3 tbsp of freshly chopped mint
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
- pinch of paprika
- pinch of salt
- Make sure that there is no fat on the lamb. Cut the meat into cubes and dry with a paper towel. This will ensure that the meat retains its crispiness during cooking.
- Place the meat into a glass dish and set aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, natural yoghurt, wine vinegar and the lemon juice.
- Add the dried oregano, crumbled bay leaves and the crushed garlic. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
- Pour the marinade over the lamb and mix well, coating the cubes with the marinade mixture.
- Cover the meat dish with cling film and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.
- In the meantime, prepare the cucumber and yoghurt sauce. Place all of the sauce ingredients except the paprika into a bowl and mix well.
- Cover with cling film and refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat the grill to a high heat.
- Remove the meat from the fridge and divide into 4 portions.
- Take a skewer and thread one portion of lamb together with one of the fresh bay leaves onto it. Repeat with the other three skewers, portions of meat and bay leaves.
- Place the skewers under the grill and cook for 4 - 5 minutes on each side depending on how well you like your meat. Baste the kebabs with the marinade during cooking.
- Once the kebabs are done, remove them from the grill and transfer to plates. Sprinkle them with the freshly chopped parsley before serving.
- Remove the yoghurt sauce from the refrigerator and sprinkle with the paprika.
Roast Duck with Apple and Apricot Purée
Duck is a very rich meat and should be eaten with foods that are refreshing and light, such as the apples and apricot sauce in this recipe, which both compliment the duck perfectly.
- 4 duckling portions (12 oz / 340 g each)
- 2 red apples
- 2 green apples
- 4 tbsp of dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of muscovado sugar
- 2 tbsp of honey
- juice of 1 lemon
- small handful of bay leaves
- For the apricot sauce
- 14 oz (400 g) tin of apricots in natural juice
- 4 tbsp of sweet sherry
- Preheat the oven to a temperature of 375°F (190°).
- Cut away any excess fat from the duckling portions.
- Prick the skin of the duck all over with a fork and place onto a wire rack with a roasting tin situated underneath.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the duck portions with the soy sauce and sprinkle with the muscovado sugar. Season with pepper.
- Place into the preheated oven and roast for 1 hour or until cooked through. The skin should be crispy and the juices should be clear in colour when you insert a skewer.
- Whilst the duck is cooking prepare the apples. Core the apples but do not peel them. Cut the apples into 6 wedges and place into a small roasting tin.
- Add the honey and lemon juice and coat the apples in this mixture.
- Scatter the bay leaves into the tin with the apples.
- Add to the oven and cook for 20 - 25 minutes or until soft.
- To prepare the apricot purée, place the apricots with the juice from the tin and the sherry into a food processor or food blender and process until smooth.
- Remove the duck from the oven and transfer to separate plates. Serve with the apples but discard the bay leaves.
- Heat the apricot purée just before serving and serve with the duck and apples.
Salmon Fillet with Herbs
This dish is great if prepared on a barbeque but works equally well on a normal grill. The salmon is cooked on a bed of herbs, infusing the fish throughout with several different herby flavours.
- 2.2 lb (1 kg) of salmon fillet
- 5 fresh branches of rosemary
- 8 bay leaves
- 1 fennel bulb, cut into 8 pieces
- ½ bunch of dried thyme
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp of lemon juice
- Use the rosemary, bay leaves and thyme to make a bed on the wire rack of your barbeque or grill. The bed should be big enough so that the salmon can lie on top.
- Place the fish onto the bed of herbs.
- Place the fennel pieces around the edge of the fish.
- Mix together the lemon juice and the olive oil and brush onto the fish using a pastry brush.
- Make a tent out of aluminium foil and place over the salmon.
- Cook the fish for 20 - 30 minutes on the barbeque or under the grill. Baste frequently with the oil and lemon juice mixture.
- Once the salmon is cooked, remove from the heat and cut into individual portions.
- Serve immediately.