Eli5: Why are bay leaves used whole, when every other spice is chopped or ground up?


Eli5: Why are bay leaves used whole, when every other spice is chopped or ground up?

In: 4471

Because Bay Leaves are very potent. If you chopped it up, they would imbue too much of their flavor into what you were cooking and it would be impossible to remove it. So you use a whole leave that gives a little flavor and is easier to remove.

Because you shouldn’t eat them. They are removed at the end of the cooking process, after they’ve released their flavour. It’s way easier when they’re whole 😀

Dried out bay leaves are super tough – they’re unpleasant to eat and they can actually be a bit of an irritant on the digestive tract – and run the risk of hurting your throat on the way down. Fresh bay leaves are less tough (though still a little bit), but still do have that irritant effect. And powdered bay leaf loses a lot of the flavor, because the oils that are inside seep out. And in my experience store-bought powdered spices tend to be less powerful than the fresh version, and bay is no exception, though you’ll sometimes find spice mixes that include a bit of it – powdered poultry seasoning usually contains bay.

At the end of the day, it just winds up being easiest to use whole leaves and pull them out of whatever they’re flavoring once the job’s done, so that nobody’s eating the actual fibrous leaf. Other “hard herbs” like rosemary, sage, thyme, etc. (the ones with woody stems or fibrous leaves) are often used the same way. Sure, we can use the finely ground versions or tear off the small leaves (depending on the herb), but it’s often more convenient in soups, sauces, braises, etc. just to tie a little bouquet of the herb, drop it in a simmering pot, and pull it out at the end.

EDIT: corrected my thing about powdered spices, cause I phrased that part poorly.

You don’t eat bay leaves, and usually take them out of whatever you’re going to eat once it’s done. Leaving them whole makes that easier.

A similar method is used for lots of herbs actually, you just have to prep them a bit differently. If they are dried, you put them in a little pouch and throw them into the food to be taken out later. Called a satchet. The same idea with fresh herbs is a bouquet garni.

Basically just imparting the flavor nd removing the ingredient.

Bay leaves aren’t the only whole ones. If a seasoning is put in whole, it is because you are meant to remove it before eating. If you chop it up or grind it, then it is meant to become part of the food and be eaten.

Bay leaves add a nice flavor but are unpleasant to eat because they are tough and hard.

Think about a tea bag – You dunk it in water but you don’t drink the bag or the tea leaves. You just let the water get the flavoring. Bay leaves work the same way.