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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- West Indian Bay Leaf
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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.
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.
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]
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.
When reading Indian recipes, if you see Bay Leaf as an ingredient, rest assured that it is not the Bay Laurel that is required, but the Indian Bay Leaf.
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.
- A Note on Four Types of Bayleaf, including Indian Bay Leaf
- A Note on Allspice, Pimento and the West Indian Bay Leaf
- Balinese or Indonesian Bay Leaf