The bay tree, also called a laurel, has been well-known since ancient times for its remarkable medicinal and culinary uses. Its place of origin is considered to be Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. The practice of putting laurel wreaths on victors in competitions comes from the ancient Greeks, who began the tradition.
Bay leaf as a spice complements spicy foods. It enables the dish and the ingredients within it to unleash their full potential. It harmonizes well with other spices, such as garlic, onions, allspice, black pepper.
It is added to various meat and vegetable soups. It is also used as a preservative. The characteristic thing about bay leaf, is that it is added at the beginning of the cooking process and removed right before serving.
There are a few famous varieties of bay leaf. They are of the Lauraceae family. They are used fresh or dried in cuisine, as well as in many folk medicine recipes. Here are the most famous ones:
Mediterranean bay leaf
This is the standard and probably most well-known variety. It is used like all other types.
California bay leaf
The plant is also known as Oregon myrtle. The leaves are incredibly similar to the ones of Mediterranean bay leaf but differ in one major way - their intense and much more saturated taste. For this reason, caution must be taken when using it.
Indian bay leaf
Also going by the name malabathrum, this type of bay leaf is distinguished by a smell and taste typical of cinnamon, but in lower quantities. Visually, Indian bay leaf looks like the other varieties, which is also why it bears this name. However, this is incorrect, since it is of the same family as laurel, but of a different genus. Indian bay leaf is not used like the other types, since it is closer to Chinese cinnamon in smell and in taste.
Indonesian bay leaf
Also known as salam leaf, this subspecies of bay leaf is used mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The fresh or dried leaves are primarily used to season meat and in rare cases - vegetables. Indonesian bay leaf has a different and more faint smell than the other varieties. Furthermore, to release its flavor, it needs to go through a specific heat treatment.