Bay leaves

Bay leaves
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Bay leaf (plural bay leaves), Greek Daphni, Romanian Foi de Dafin; is the aromatic leaf of several species of the Laurel family (Lauraceae). Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance.

If eaten whole, bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. The flavor of the California bay leaf is a bit more intense and bitter than the Turkish variety. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable in cooked foods than the taste. When dried, the fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and somewhat similar to oregano and thyme. Myrcene, an essential oil used in perfumery can be extracted from the bay leaf. The flavor and aroma of bay leaves owes in large part to the essential oil eugenol.

Bay leaves are a fixture in the cooking of many European cuisines (particularly those of the Mediterranean), as well as in North America. They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes. The leaves also flavor classic French dishes such as bouillabaise and bouillon. The leaves are most often used whole (sometimes in a bouquet garni), and removed before serving. In Indian cuisine, bay leaves are often used in biryani and many salans.

Bay leaves can also be crushed (or ground) before cooking. Crushed bay leaves impart more of their desired fragrance than whole leaves, and there is less chance of biting into a leaf directly.

Ancient Greeks and Romans crowned victors with wreaths of laurel. The term “baccalaureate,” means laurel berry, and refers to the ancient practice of honoring scholars and poets with garlands from the bay laurel tree. Romans felt the leaves protected them against thunder and the plague. Later, Italians and the English believed bay leaves brought good luck and warded off evil. The given name and surname “Laurence,” is derived from the Roman name for the plant and the honorary practices using its boughs of leaves and berries. Other versions of the name are “Lawrence,” “Loritz,” “Laritz” and the Hungarian, “Lorinc.” In Scandinavian languages, “Laurence” became the common “Lars”, and the Finnish equivalent is “Lauri”.

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