Does the Bay Leaf Do Anything?
Bay leaves are kitchen drying sheets. I know they are doing something , I just don’t quite understand what it is and I don’t really miss them when I run out. Nevertheless, I continue to buy them, because that’s what people do, which is prepared. They buy bay leaves and put them in things.
I never doubted my abilities until I read an excerpt from an innovative culinary journalism Kelly Koneboy “Conspiracy of the vast filler sheet” . In it, Konaboy asks (and answers) difficult questions:
“What is the taste of bay leaves? Nothing. What does bay leaf smell like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf look like? Sheet. How does a bay leaf behave? It behaves as if you took a leaf from a tree outside your apartment building and put it in your soup. “
Konaboy’s work made me look inside myself, and as soon as I did, I realized that I had no idea about the taste or smell of bay leaves, at least not in a real, intuitive sense. (I mean, I could just accept the words of many of the chefs who have been interviewed for this dish, but they are too conspiracy to be trusted.) According to the propaganda printed on the bay leaf jar I only what they bought they “have a bold, bright taste with hints of camphor and eucalyptus.”
These leaves are not only shrouded in mystery, but also have a reputation for troublemaking. They not only cause serious mental illness in a certain segment of the population , but I have personally heard stories of at least two people affected by exposure to plants, including our editor-in-chief, who, as a child, choked on a leaf that he cleverly hid in a bowl of chili pepper.
To settle this matter – and my soul – I bought a whole packet of bay leaves to smell and taste. Obviously, tasting my research will be the most challenging, since bay leaves are not allowed to be eaten. (And yet we put them in our food . Are you starting to wake up, shepherd? No, leaf? )
I bought three types of bay leaves, fresh, dried, but brand new, and dried, but very old, and I smelled all of them. To test for flavor, I cooked each type of leaf in the lightest food I have in my pantry: plain white rice. (I also cooked some plain rice without leaves as a control.) Aside from changing leaves in each batch, they were all cooked the same way (in my Instant Pot) and tasted side by side. Let’s explore each, sheet by sheet.
Fresh bay leaf that looks just like any other regular leaf
They didn’t actually have a real smell to talk about, which surprised me as I expected them to smell the strongest. It could be because they were intact and their scent was securely contained within their intact cell walls, or it could be compelling evidence in the evolving case against Big Leaf.
To see if any flavor could be conveyed to this odorless miracle, I tossed one of the leaves into my rice pot . When the rice was ready, I opened the pot and was greeted by a tea-like, slightly medicinal and slightly pungent smell. The color surprised me.
However, when I first took a bite of this batch of rice, I was not thrilled. The rice tasted like rice and it tasted great, but I wasn’t like, “Oh hey, I’m definitely trying something that isn’t rice here,” I was more like “well, maybe it tastes like this “. if you screw up your tongue? “
But then I took a bite off of the leafless rice for comparison, and don’t you know the rice tasted as flat as Tila Tequila thinks on earth. I went back to rice with leaves and noticed a distinct roundness in the flavor that didn’t really attract attention, but only made the rice look more like rice. It only made me more confident in my analogy with a dryer sheet; they make things better, but it ‘s hard to see why . NEXT SHEET.
Dried but just bought leaves
Unlike their fresh counterparts, these babies had a noticeable scent. I could smell this medicinal tea, but it had a harshness that I hadn’t noticed before. One of these leaves was also cooked with rice.
The scent that emanated from my Instant Pot this time was very similar to the scent of fresh leaves, except there was a bit of pungent funk and vague hints of Vicks Vapor Rub.
That slightly camphor funk carried over to the taste of rice, but it was a timid, mellow, melodic funk, and I had to go back to sad plain rice for contrast. If I needed to summarize my impression of the bay leaf so far, I could use the word “thin”, but that might be a little aggressive.
Sad, really old bay leaves that lived in my boyfriend’s office
“Do you have really old bay leaves?” I asked my friend, hoping his spice cabinet was as poorly organized as I suspected. “Yes,” he confirmed, “I’ll bring them tomorrow.” (Really, who needs flowers?) Those sad crumbly leaves smelled a little less sad, less crumbly dried leaves, only they were less pungent and slightly musty. They also received the rice treatment.
At this point, I was pretty tired of rice, and rice with an old, surprisingly flaky bay leaf didn’t really bother me about eating more. But I did it anyway. I did it for you. I did it for myself. I did this because a couple of days ago I was very diligent in coming up with this idea.
As you probably guessed – because you are very smart – the old dried leaf smelled and tasted like a new dry leaf, only to a lesser extent. (More like a memory of a bay leaf than a real bay leaf.) Honestly, its sinister appearance dissuaded me from eating a ton of it. Plus, I didn’t want to eat more rice. (I wanted to eat pretzel chips in sour cream.)
However, eating all that rice taught me a lot. Although I still hold my position as analogous to the dryer leaf, I feel as though I have a better understanding of what the leaves “do”. Unlike showy cinnamon or eye-catching star anise, bay leaves beautify the environment. They finish off the dish without distracting attention, especially if there are not many bright flavors in the mixture. Will I be able to keep buying and using them in my broths and broths? Certainly. But if I’m making a hearty beef stew or some other hearty dish, I’m not going to panic if I run out of leaves. Nor am I going to panic if I run out of drying sheets; my clothes will be slightly less legible.