Bay is used in a wide variety of recipes, but mainly in soups, stews, and sauces. It’s quite a peculiar herb because it is not actually eaten. Instead, it’s used during the cooking process for its flavour, but is removed before serving. This leaves many wondering what bay itself actually tastes like. And more importantly, is it actually worth adding?
When steeped for five minutes, bay leaves release flavours of menthol and eucalyptus. If allowed to steep for longer, however, the flavour changes. After about an hour, bay’s aroma will become more complex, with the menthol punch fading and a tealike quality replacing it. When adding bay leaves to cooking, it’s usually this tealike flavour that you are after.
The longer it stews, the more flavour – but don’t expect it’s taste to dominate a dish. Bay works best backing when complementing and backing up stronger flavours. While never taking centre stage, it adds a subtle layer of background flavour that allows the stars of the dish to really shine. Try out our Lemon-Yoghurt Chicken with Lentils to see how bay’s understated flavour gives these protein-packed lentils an added oomph in this tangy, tasty dish.
To get a better sense of the flavours in bay leaves, try steeping a few in hot water for a couple minutes and try the water. Then try again but let the leaves simmer in plain water for an hour minutes and taste the difference!