Indian Essentials: What are Indian Bay Leaves? | Teja Patta

Did you know that if you see bay leaves in the ingredient list of an Indian Recipe, chances are that it is not referring to the leaves of the European Sweet Laurel tree which are commonly known as Bay Leaves? It is referring to a specifically Indian ingredient called Teja Patta, Tejpat,or Indian bay leaves. They are quite different.

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Indian Bay Leaves - Teja Pat

Indian Bay Leaves are not the same as European Laurel Bay Leaves

Teja Patta, the Indian Bay leaf, tastes more like cinnamon, but milder, and is indeed the leaf of the Cassia tree. The Laurel Bay leaf, common in the West, has a completely different flavour profile, and is not a good substitute for the Indian bay, even if the recipe indicates that it is. There are no similarities between the two. The best thing to do if you don’t have Teja Pata is to leave it out altogether, or add a little cassia, cinnamon or an extra clove instead.

Indian Bay leaves are also different to the Balinese Bay leaf (Daun Salam) and the West Indian Bay Leaf.

The  Teja Patta leaf is much larger than the Laurel Bay leaf, and has three spines down the middle instead of one. It is the leaf of the cassia plant and the cinnamon-clove-like flavor is unlike the other varieties.

What are Indian Bay Leaves | Tej Patta | Heat in The Kitchen

The History of Teja Patta

The Sanskrit name tamala­pattra [तमालपत्त्र] means dark leaf. Greek traders took that name changing it to malabathron. This name was then taken by the Romans as malabathrum or malobathrum. Many recent languages of Northern India have names for Indian bay-leaf that derive from that Sanskrit term, e.g., Marathi tamal patra [तमाल पत्र]. In Hindi and some related languages, the spice is known as tejpatta [तेजपत्ता], pun­gent leaf. Tamil has probably the most fitting name for this spice: ilavanga­pattiri [இலவங்கபத்திரி] cinnamon leaf.

Confusion in Indian Recipes

For Western Audiences, it is confusing at least and misleading at most to call it bay leaf because it is of a genus other than that of the Bay Laurel tree, it does not taste the same as the Bay Laurel leaf, and cannot be used in cooking as a substitute for the bay laurel leaf. Neither is the Bay Laurel leaf a good substitute for the Indian Bay leaf.

Recipes generally list Bay Leaf as the ingredient without explaining which one is meant. I have even seen Laurel Leaf used in Indian Recipes,when clearly Teja Patta was intended. I am not sure of the remedy, as Indian recipes are most often written for Indian cooks who would immediately know that Teja Pata is meant. However, given the global availability of many recipes from all over the world, it may pay to know the difference and be specific. Perhaps use the term Teja Pata or malabathrum rather than Bay Leaves in Indian recipes? Or at least, call it Indian Bay Leaf.

In the Phillipines, it is common to call both European Bay and Indian Bay as Laurel Bay, despite the differences in taste and appearance, adding an extra dimension to the confusion. I hear that when Bay Laurel is specified it is most likely referring to Indian Bay.

When reading Indian recipes, if you see Bay Leaf as an ingredient, rest assured that it is not the European Bay Laurel that is required, but the Indian Bay Leaf.

Indian Bay Leaves - Teja Pat

These are Indian Bay Leaves (Teja Patta) even though they are labelled Bay Leaves. Look for the 3 ribs on the leaves.

Uses of Indian Bay Leaves

Bay leaves can also be used whole or crushed or ground before cooking. Crushed bay leaves impart more of their fragrance than whole leaves, but are more difficult to remove from the dish. A good tip is to are place them in a muslin bag or tea infuser. Whole leaves can be placed in any dish to infuse their flavour.  Place in curries,  rice preparations, soups and vegetable dishes.

As well as culinary uses, it seems that like burning sage in house, burning Indian Bay Leaf has benefits. It is said to help fatigue, varicose veins, painful joints, and viral infections. It also  helps by calming the nervous system and boosting mental activity, as well as strengthening immune systems. Just light a bay leaf and leave to smoke and burn in a fireproof dish for 10 minutes.

Different Bay Leaves

A Final Note…

It isn’t wrong to use the Sweet Laurel Bay leaf in Indian food, it can add a groundedness similar to the use of black cardamom (although a different flavour profile).

But if you are looking for true Indian flavours, best avoid it all together. If you can’t find Teja Pata, go without, don’t substitute with a Laurel Bay leaf, even if the recipe says to do so. You know now that there is no similarity between the two. The best thing to do if you don’t have Teja Pata is to leave it out altogether, or add a little cassia, cinnamon or an extra clove instead.

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