What Even Are Bay Leaves And Why Are They Added? Find Out

Be it any rich Indian dish, all of us are likely to encounter a special spice-bay leaf also known as tej patta in Indian households. Not just in India but also in Jamaica and Spain, bay leaf makes for up for a crucial ingredient and is extensively used to enhance the flavour as well as aroma. Sometimes it is added whole while sometimes ground into a powder and used. But did you know that there are six different spices used in different parts and all are confusingly known as “bay leaf”? 

All these spices may be recognized by the same name and used to add flavour but they don’t necessarily act as a substitute for each other. As per some experts, the term “bay leaf” originally refers to foliage from the bay laurel tree. Known for its distinctive herbal flavor, bitter and slightly piney, this spice has been used as a seasoning since time immemorial. Let us take you through six different spices along with where they come from and how they are used. Scroll down. 

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Bay Laurel 

Most commonly used in America and Europe, laurel leaves have been used by ancient Greeks and Romans in food as well as medicine. Laurel was the symbol of the god Apollo, whose oracle at Delphi held a laurel branch as she prophesied apart from chewing the leaves and inhaling their smoke.  

As per the report, Bay laurel’s name holds an ancient etymology. Old Bay seasoning contains powdered bay leaf, but it was named after a shipping line on Chesapeake Bay. However, laurel’s long importance has given rise to other names like Laurence, Laura, Laurence. Whole bay leaves are often removed from food before serving and this has led to a misconception that they are poisonous. However, bay leaves taste unpleasantly but they are safe to eat. 

Indian Bay Leaf

Known as tej patta, means “pungent leaf,” this spice has Sanskrit name was tamalapattram, or “dark tree leaves.” It is believed that when the dried leaf was traded west to Europe, the ancient Greeks misunderstood “tamalapattra” as “the malabathrum,” which became the spice’s name in Europe. You might be shocked to know that South Asia’s bay leaf has a different flavor from bay laurel. What makes them apart is their veins. 

Indian bay leaves have three parallel veins from stem to tip and are narrower and flatter and larger that bay leaves. Indian bay leaf is closely related to the cinnamon tree and has a similar flavour too. This spice is used in garam masala and also used in Ayurvedic medicine. 

Indonesian Bay Leaf

Also known as daun salam, this bay is a member of the myrtle family. It is closely related to clove, native to Indonesia. Dried Indonesian Bay leaves are delicate and brittle and when fried in oil or crumbled into hot liquid, they release a sweet fragrance. They are used in soups and curries as well as rice dishes and milk puddings. Like bay laurel leaves, they are also removed before serving because of their bitter taste. 

West Indian Bay Leaf 

West Indian Bay is another myrtle relative, also known as sweet bay or spice tree. This plant’s every part is poisonous except for its leaves that have a complex, spicy flavor and aroma. In the Caribbean, these leaves are often used as an air freshener and a natural insect repellent. They can be added to rice dishes, spice cakes, tea and pickles. West Indian Bay leaves are known for their usage in bay rum. It consists of rum infused with this and other spices. 

Mexican Bay Leaf 

Mexican bay leaf was used in remedies long before the Spanish arrived. Later, it was called falso laurel to differentiate it from bay laurel. They resemble bay laurel in flavor but are milder and more subtle. In Mexico, they are added to soups, marinades, and slow-cooked meat dishes.  

California Bay Leaf 

Native to Pacific coastal forests from California to Oregon, these leaves are longer and narrower than bay laurel leaves, with a similar but stronger flavour and fragrance. California bay contains umbellulone, a compound that can induce headaches. However, the plant is also used in indigenous headache remedies, as per studies. These leaves are often used in medicinal tea or topical antiseptic remedies.