If you’ve ever been ready to dig into a good soup for lunch, only to notice a light green note in the flavor and aroma, chances are you’re sensing the bay leaf. Bay leaf is a fragrant and flavorful leaf plucked from the laurel tree, and it’s often used to bring an herbal element into both stews and homemade soups of all different cuisines.
Bay leaves are removed before eating a soup, as the texture of the bay leaf is thick, leathery, and pointy at the edges. Bay leaves can be used either fresh or dried, with dried often preferred due to their stronger aromatics when compared to fresh.
Where Do Bay Leaves Come From?
Bay leaves used in the culinary world come from two areas – either California or the Mediterranean. Mediterranean bay leaves are the most common globally, and the flavor of Mediterranean bay leaves is a little more subtle when compared to the California varieties. These two varieties typically look a little different as well, as Mediterranean bay leaves will tend to be shorter and rounder, while California bay leaves take on a slimmer and longer appearance.
In the United States, most fresh bay leaves used are the California variety, while most dried bay leaves are Mediterranean. California bay leaves tend to have a bit more of a minty fresh taste, while Mediterranean tastes “softer” and earthier.
What Do They Taste Like?
Knowing what bay leaves taste like helps you to really pick them out in your soup. The problem is that bay leaves tend to have a highly subtle flavor and fresh aroma, which makes them the perfect supporting actor rather than the star of the show. Bay leaves are often used to lift up and enhance other herbal and spice notes, but that doesn’t mean they’re undetectable – it just takes a keen palate.
Bay leaves on their own in a recipe are subtle, with a green freshness not dissimilar to a delicate oregano or thyme. California bay leaves tend to be a little sweeter, but still have the same base in green freshness.
We use bay leaf often in our SoLé Soup Studio, creating a fresh balancing act in your soup lunch so you get the most out of every flavor in each bite! It’s easy to see how it works to create perfect flavor harmony in our Hearty Beef Stew.