Ever Wondered Why Bay Leaves Are Used Whole In Cooking?
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Ever wondered why there is a random dry leaf buried beneath the rice in your plate of pulao or picking it out of a fiery chicken curry? The bay leaf is a spice that is commonly used in Indian as well as Mughlai dishes, along with it making an appearance in Mexican and Italian cuisines, from around the world. Depending on the kind of culture you hail from, both, fresh and dry variations of the leaf are used in cooking. That said, the bay leaf is always used as a whole when compared to its counterparts which are broken, pounded or powdered before being added to dishes.

Apart from the usual challenge of the time-consuming picking of shards of the sharp leaf, crushing or tearing the bay leaf into pieces might also increase the chances of oesophageal discomfort or injuries. Another reason, more importantly, is that bay leaves have a strong flavour and tearing or crushing them, would impart an overpowering fragrance and taste to the dish, which might be undesirable. Very rarely would you come across any recipe where bay leaves are ground into a powder or crushed, unless it is being used as part of a spice mix, where other ingredients are equally imposing.

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Bay leaves, in any recipe, provide a lingering aroma and flavour, that is pleasant only because it is used whole. Moreover, using it in its original form, makes it easier to discard when not needed since the texture of a dry bay leaf remains stiff no matter how long it cooks for. In the event that you find yourself making a spice blend, marinade or dry rub, it is advisable to use the bay leaf as a whole, as opposed to crushing them into smaller shards, unless it is the fresh variety you find yourself with.

Using it sparingly and mostly one or two at a time, is the best way to extract the best kind of flavour from the ingredient, without having your food taste like a nose rub ointment. Make it a part of recipes that have a lot to do with slow-cooking, pickling, stewing or even simmering sauces or liquids, as these leaves tend to release their flavour bit-by-bit. Add it to meat or vegetables before grilling or roasting so that their outer surface is perfumed with the aroma from the spice.