Ingredients in the Raw: Bay Leaf

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Contrary to popular wisdom, there’s nothing wrong with resting on your laurels, otherwise known as Bay Leaves. These shiny, green trophies once graced the heads of ancient Greek olympians, but they’re not too proud to assist in your next stew.

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Don’t let their modest flavor fool you–much like an expertly feathered fringe or the perfect shade of eggshell for your kitchen walls, bay leaves represent that subtle X-factor that can change the game without you even realizing it.

The Look:

Bay leaves are almost too pretty to eat–it’s no wonder the champs of yore favored them as an accessory as well as a food. Generally 3-4” long, bay laurel form long ellipse (or football) -shaped leaves, which become dark green, stiff, and glossy.

The Flavor:

Fresh leaves open with a pungent, menthol-like bite. As the leaf steeps in liquid, its crispness and bitterness matures into a nuanced herbal, almost floral, taste. This effect is largely due to the essential oil myrcene, which can be extracted from bay leaves and added to perfumes.

The Pay-Off:

Adding a sophisticated backdrop to the more prominent flavors in your dish, bay leaves pull a meal together, like the chorus in a ballad.

Not only do they up your cooking cred; bay leaves are also rife with Vitamin A, niacin, riboflavin, folic acid, calcium, potassium, iron, and many other nutrients. Cooking with bay leaf is like sprinkling your daily multivitamin right over your plate, only much tastier.

Use ‘Em In:

…everything. Soups, stews, meat, seafood, sauces, you name it. Because dried bay leaves impart a mellow flavor, they play nice with many different spices in many different dishes. Bay leaves are especially popular in Mediterranean food, but you’ll find them in many other cuisines as well.

Rough Around the Edges:

Bay leaves remain stiff and sharp even after extensive soaking, and can scratch the GI tract, so be sure to remove them from any dish before you eat it.

Rigid, Yet Flexible:

Their texture may be rough, but bay leaves are pretty sweet kitchen helpers. Leave them in the pantry to repel pests, like mice, moths, and roaches. These leaves are also sought out for their essential oils, including cineol and eugenol. Or, of course, string them into a wreath for your next toga party (mostly only useful if you happen to be a frat boy, but an option nonetheless).

Store Them:

… in the pantry for up to a few months. If you’re buying in bulk, keep them in the freezer, and they’ll stay flavorful for years.

Go Get ‘Em!

Add bay leaves to your kitchen repertoire. Get your first taste with our San Francisco-Style Shrimp Cioppino, which will make appearances during the colder weather months. Soon, you’ll want to add it to everything–just maybe not your wardrobe (sorry, Ancient Greece).

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