It can be confusing – which leaf does your Indian recipe call for, or your Italian dish, or your notes from your Caribbean holiday? Here is how to differentiate. You may also like to read the following posts:
In different parts of the world, bay leaves may not be labelled specifically, and recipes might refer to “bay leaf” without being specific. As they all have different tastes, it is important to know the differences so a bit of detective work will help determine which bay leaf to use. For example 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. It explains why I have seen Indian recipes specifying bay laurel as an ingredient, when it is clear that Indian Bay Leaf, Teja Patta, is the one to use.
Teja Patta, Indian Bay LEaves
European Bayleaf (Laurel Bay)
Bayleaf is one of the world’s oldest herbs and is a native of Asia Minor. Wreaths of bay leaves were worn by Roman conquerors and poets of heroic or poetic fame, hence the term “laurels” i.e. resting upon you. The leaves are elongated and green.
Bayleaf is known as sweet bay, bay laurel, noble laurel and true laurel. It grows wild in the Mediterranean and is cultivated in France, Belgium, Central and Northern America, Turkey, Italy, Russia, Israel and India (Assam and other NE states).
Bay is an evergreen tree that can grow to 15 – 16 metres. It is often shaped into a ball. The leaves are 3 – 8 cm long and 1 – 3 cm wide. Leaves are dried for distribution, but using fresh adds a sparkle that is lacking in dried leaves. Fresh bay is strongly aromatic and more bitter before cooking. For dried bay there is a rule of thumb when assessing quality – the greener the colour the better the quality. This is because the best drying process is a slow process without exposure to the sun and this retains the bay’s colour.
Bay leaves have a delicate and aromatic odour and a spicy, bitter but earthy taste. They should be used sparingly to avoid bitterness and should be removed before serving.
They are added to scores of Mediterranean stocks, sauces, soups, preserves, casseroles, stews, rice and vegetable dishes as well as puddings, pickles and marinades for their delicate aroma and earthy taste. Bay leaf frequently turns up in bouquet garnish, that classic combo of bayleaf, thyme and parsley. They can be lightly browned in oil first to intensify their aroma. The distilled bay oil (distilled from the fruits) is used in a variety of liquors and in perfumes. The laurel fruit is not well known, although they do appear as part of commercial spice mixtures. The taste is robust, and so go well with sauces, gravies and potatoes.
Bay has antiseptic properties when boiled in water. It is said they help whiten teeth and prevent pyorrhoea, stops bleeding of gums and clears skin blemishes. It does diminish the problem of weevils if bay leaves are spread amongst the shelves of your pantry.
Indian Bayleaf (Tejpat or Teja Pat)
The Indian Bayleaf is different to the bayleaf of the West. It originated on the Southern slopes of the Himalayas. It is popular in Northern Indian cuisine, appearing in biriyanis and kormas and often forming part of the North Indian garam masala mix, but they are little known elsewhere. The leaf is the prime part used, but the bark can be used as a substitute for cinnamon or cassia in a crisis. The aroma of the Indian bay leaf is strongly aromatic somewhat like cinnamon or cloves.
NEVER substitute European bayleaves for Indian Bayleaves – they are quite different in taste. Salam leaves, boldo leaves, cinnamon leaves or a small piece of cinnamon bark are BETTER substitutes. Indian bayleaf is similar to Salam leaves. The flavour is somewhat clovey and it highly aromatic, similar to cinnamon or cloves, and it can be added whole to curries and soups during cooking.
Indonesian or Balinese Bay Leaf (Cassia Leaf, bai grawan; daun salaam)
A subtly flavoured leaf of the cassis family, this bears no resemblance to the sweet laural bayleaf. It is known only in Malay and Indonesian cooking, common in the cuisines of Thailand, Sumatra, Java and Bali and growing wild in the Western part of the SE Asian Peninsula (Burma to Malaysia) and in Indonesia. It is difficult to obtain in the West, although it is available in Asian shops that sell Indonesian ingredients.
The leaves may be used fresh or dried. They are used with a variety of dishes, and fried or cooked for a while to release their flavour.
Do not use sweet laurel bayleaf as a substitute. Indian Bay Leaves (Teja patta) can be used as a substitute, or omit them altogether. Some books in fact refer to Salam as Indian Bay, and I assume that this error derives from the time that Indonesia was known as East India. Sometimes it is labelled as Sweet Bay Laurel (Laurus Nobilis – see below), but that is also incorrect.
The Indonesian name “daun salam” means “peace leaf”.
West Indian Bay Leaf (Allspice, Pimento)
Allspice is the unripe and dried highly aromatic berry of the allspice large, evergreen tree, and the aromatic leaves are also often used for cooking. It is this leaf that is called the West Indian Bayleaf. It is strongly aromatic with a distinct and fascinating flavour, like cloves with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the taste is similar but more peppery. In Caribbean cuisine, allspice is an important spice, with its leaves and wood being used as well as the berries.
some images from the internet
Spices and Spice Mixes
- Ajwain Seeds aka Carom, Spice Advice
- Chat Masala
- Garam Masala
- On Indian Bayleaves (Teja Patta): They are NOT Sweet Laurel Bay Leaves!!
- Sambar Powder
- Turmeric the Wonder Spice
- Red and Green, Fresh or Dried – On Chillies in Indian Food