The source of baccalaureate and poet laureate
This ancient herb, bay laurel, also known as true laurel, sweet bay, Grecian laurel, comes from a Mediterranean evergreen. It has long, narrow, pointed, dark, and leathery leaves. The flavor is between eucalyptus, mint, lemon and fresh cut grass and has been described as smoky & spicy. Don’t confuse this with California bay which is what is usually sold here as bay leaves. The leaves have a similar shape, but the California bay leaf feels softer by comparison. The flavor is pungent, sweet, lemony, and spicy, with a hint of cloves and bizarrely, turpentine.
It is the source of the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, and then later the expression of “resting on one’s laurels”. In the Bible, the sweet-bay is often an emblem of prosperity and fame. It is also the source of the word baccalaureate (laurel berry), and of poet laureate.
We are always cautioned not to eat bay leaves. Why is that? The reason is rather simple. bay leaves are very tough and when broken or chewed display very sharp edges. Our systems have a difficult time breaking these leaves down and making them soft. So, as they move through our bodies, they become like small razors tracking through our systems. The swallowed leaves can cause serious injury to your esophagus, stomach and more. Always remove the bay leaves from whatever dish you have prepared.
If you are out of bay leaves you may substitute thyme.