Do Bay Leaves Even Do Anything?

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Photos by Claire Lower

Bay leaves are the dryer sheets of the kitchen. I do know that they do one thing, I’m simply not solely positive what it’s, and I don’t actually miss them once I run out. Yet I hold shopping for them, as a result of this what people that cook dinner do. They purchase bay leaves and put them in issues.

I by no means questioned my methods, till I learn Kelly Conaboy’s ground-breaking piece of meals journalism, The Vast Bay Leaf Conspiracy. Within it, Conaboy asks (and solutions) the robust questions:

“What does a bay leaf style like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf scent like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf seem like? A leaf. How does a bay leaf behave? It behaves as a leaf would, for those who took a leaf from the tree exterior of your house constructing and put it into your soup.”

Conaboy’s work brought on me to look inward, and as soon as I did I noticed that I had no fucking clue what a bay leaf tasted or smelled like, no less than not in any actual, visceral means. (I imply, I might simply settle for the phrase of the numerous cooks interviewed for the piece, however they’re far too concerned within the conspiracy to be trusted.) According to propaganda printed on the jar of bay leaves I simply bought, they “have a daring, vibrant taste with a touch of camphor and eucalyptus.”

We’ll see.

In addition to being shrouded in thriller, these leaves even have a little bit of a popularity as hassle makers. Not solely do they trigger severe mental distress to a certain subset of the population, however I’ve personally heard inform of no less than two individuals who have been damage by the plant half, together with our very personal editor-in-chief who, as a baby, choked on a leaf that had been cleverly hiding in a bowl of chili.

To settle the matter—and my soul—I purchased a complete bunch of bay leaves to smell and style. Obviously, the tasting portion of my investigation could be essentially the most concerned, as bay leaves can’t be eaten. (And but we put them in meals. Are you beginning to get up, sheeple? Nay—leafple?)

Maybe contemporary is the reply?

I acquired three varieties of bay leaves: contemporary, dried however model new, and dried however very outdated, and I sniffed them all. To examine for the existence of taste, I cooked every sort of leaf within the blandest meals I had in my pantry: plain white rice. (I additionally cooked some plain rice sans leaf, as a management.) Besides the change of leaf in every batch, all have been cooked the very same means (in my Instant Pot) and tasted side-by-side. Let’s discover every one, leaf by leaf.

Fresh Bay Leaves That Look a Whole Lot Like Every Other Generic Leaf

Legitimate leaves from a tree

These really didn’t have any actual scent to talk of, which was shocking to me, as I anticipated them to scent essentially the most strongly. This could possibly be as a result of they have been entire, with their scent contained safely inside their unbroken mobile partitions, or it could possibly be a damning piece of proof within the creating case towards Big Leaf.

Take a shower, leaf.

To see if any taste could possibly be coaxed from this scentless surprise, I threw one of many leaves into my Instant Pot with a cup of rice. Once the rice was executed cooking, I opened the pot and was greeted with a tea-like, vaguely medicinal and barely savory scent. Color me shocked.

What a smug-looking mofo.

However, once I first took a chew of this batch of rice, I used to be underwhelmed. The rice tasted of rice, and it was wonderful, however I wasn’t like “oh hey, I’m undoubtedly tasting a factor that isn’t rice in right here,” I used to be extra like “uh, possibly this sort of tastes the way it smells for those who squint your tongue?”

But then I took a chew of leaf-less rice for comparability, and wouldn’t you realize that rice tasted as flat as Tila Tequila thinks the earth is. I went again to the leaf-ful rice, and observed a definite roundness of taste that didn’t actually name consideration to itself, a lot because it made the rice style like higher rice. This solely made me extra sure in my dryer sheet analogy; they make issues higher, but it surely’s arduous to place your finger on precisely why. NEXT LEAF.

Dried, But Freshly Purchased Leaves

Makes you wanna attain for a rake.

Unlike their contemporary counterpart, these infants had an instantly detectable scent. I received an excellent whiff of that medicinal tea aroma, however there was a pungency that I hadn’t detected earlier than. One of those leaves additionally received cooked into some rice.

The aroma that wafted out my Instant Pot this time was similar to the contemporary leaf aroma besides there was an excellent little bit of pungent funk and obscure hints of Vicks Vapor Rub.

This leaf is an actual drama queen with its horny lighting.

That barely camphor-y funk carried over to the flavour of the rice, but it surely was a timid, delicate, melodic funk, and I needed to hold going again to the unhappy, plain rice for distinction. If I had a to sum up my impression of bay leaves to date, I’d use the phrase “refined,” however that is perhaps a tad bit aggressive.


Sad, Really Old Bay Leaves That Were Living in My Boyfriend’s Cabinet

The jar is sticky for some purpose.

“Do you may have any actually outdated bay leaves?” I requested my man-friend, hoping that his spice cupboard was as poorly organized as I suspected it was. “Yes,” he confirmed, “I’ll deliver them over tomorrow.” (Really, who wants flowers?) These unhappy, crumbly leaves smelled loads like the marginally less-sad, less-crumbly dried leaves, solely they have been much less pungent, and barely musty. They additionally received the rice remedy.

Those spots don’t look wholesome.

At this level I used to be fairly bored with consuming rice, and rice with an outdated, surprisingly peel-y bay leaf wasn’t precisely getting me enthusiastic about consuming extra. But I did it anyway. I did it for you. I did it for me. I did it as a result of I had pitched this concept very arduous a few days prior.

Seriously whaaaat is going on?

As you might most likely guess—since you’re very good—the outdated dried leaf smelled and tasted like the brand new dry leaf, solely much less so. (More just like the reminiscence of a bay leaf than an precise bay leaf.) Honestly although, it’s malignant look discouraged me from consuming a ton of it. Also I didn’t need to eat extra rice. (I wished to eat pretzel chips dipped in bitter cream.)

Eating all this rice nevertheless, taught me loads. Though I nonetheless preserve my place on the entire dryer sheet analogy, I really feel like I’ve extra of a grasp on what it’s the leaves “do.” Unlike showy cinnamon or that attention-grabbing star anise, bay leaves are all about complementing their environment. They spherical out the dish they’re in with out hogging the highlight, particularly if there aren’t a complete lot of daring flavors within the combine. Will I proceed shopping for and utilizing them in my shares and broths? Sure. But if I’m making a hearty beef stew or another wealthy dish, I’m not going to panic if I run out of leaves. I’m additionally not going to panic if I run out of dryer sheets; my garments will simply be rather less well-rounded.

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