What are the best substitutes for bay leaves?
Bay leaves, also referred to as laurel leaves, are commonly used to enhance the flavour and aroma. Bay leaves are native to the Mediterranean region, but they are popular all around the world.
They are commonly used in dishes that need more cooking time e.g., broths, Indian cuisine and stews, soups, and pasta sauces.
If you are in the middle of making pasta sauce and you realize that you don’t have any bay leaves to give it an extra flavour, you have no need to worry!
Although its flavour is distinctive, there are some bay leaf substitutes that do a great job of replacing it if you don’t have bay leaves in your kitchen cabinet.
Let’s get into it!
What are Bay leaves?
Bay leaves are the leaves of the Bay Laurel tree that are used for culinary flavouring.
They are commonly used as dried. They are usually used in stews and soups. They are added whole and often removed before serving the dish.
Bay Leaf Alternatives
You can use basil instead of bay leaves in your kitchen if you are making a tomato or vegetable dish. Like thyme, basil is related to mint and gives off a sweet herbal scent.
It is widely used in Asian and Italian cuisine and works well with chicken, lamb, and fish.
How Much To Substitute: Use the same amount of basil as you would bay leaves.
Oregano is another bay leaf alternative. It is a great alternative if you are cooking chicken, lamb, or beef dishes. Oregano is also great with tomatoes and is used as an additive to chilli powder. It gives off a strong aroma when cooking, making it a good substitute for bay leaves.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Mexican oregano has a much stronger flavour than regular oregano.
How Much To Substitute: You can use the same amount of oregano as you would bay leaf.
You might be a little hesitant to add thyme in your dish as a bay leaf substitute because it belongs to other plant families and looks different too. However, If you run out of bay leaves, don’t hesitate to add thyme in your dish as its alternative.
Thyme and bay leaf provide a minty flavour when you dry them up. For example, If you want to marinate beef or chicken, take ¼ teaspoon of thyme and sprinkle on the meat to enhance its flavour and aroma.
How Much To Substitute: You can use the double the amount of thyme as you would bay leaves.
If you don’t have bay leaves on hand, but you want to take your stew to the whole new level, juniper berries can help you achieve your goal.
If you are trying something with duck for your Sunday dinner, Juniper berries can be great spice to enhance its flavour. When you pair them with rosemary, it will complement well.
Remember: Pregnant women and young kids are not allowed to eat food that contains juniper berries.
Boldo leaves are not widely used in the world except South America.
Most cooks consider boldo leaves a permanent alternative of bay leaves. It belongs to the Monimiaceae family, which is very close to bay family. Moreover, its taste and aroma are also similar.
In Brazil and other South American countries, yerba mate is used with boldo leaves to tame its strong flavour. Its flavour is spicy, warm, and bitter.
Culinary Uses for Bay Leaves
Bouquet garni is a French dish, and bay leaf is its common ingredient, which is the herbs mixture and added to sauces, stews, cooking meats, casseroles, and soups while cooking.
Bay leaves are also an essential ingredient when it comes to marinading fish and red meat. It is also used in pickling solutions. You can even add it to boiling water to cook shrimp and crab.
How to Grow a Bay Leaf Tree
Bay trees are planted in the generous amount of compost and well-drained soil. If you want to grow them in the container, keep them at the small growth, which allows the gardener to shelter the area when cold outside or bring the tree indoor. It can be grown as a houseplant. Keep its soil level the same as it was grown in its nursery pot.
The best time to grow a bay tree is the early spring when they are in semi-dormant mode.
You can grow them as a part of your homegrown culinary herb arsenal or as an ornamental plant. The most common form of propagation of the bay tree is air layering and cutting. The best time for cutting the bay tree is late summer, while the air layering needs the gardener’s skills to curl the tree and pack it with sphagnum moss till its roots form in the curl. The branches can be cut off and planted again.
The bay tree has weak wood, so make sure to protect it from the winds. The heavy winds can damage it. The good thing about bay trees is that they don’t require water or feeding in the water. When the bay trees are young, they can be trained to topiary. All you need to have careful management.
If you have a bay tree in a potted plant, place it in temperature (7 to 17 C) and where the direction of sunlight is from the eastern or southern. You can harvest bay leaves at any time of the year, but the mature and larger leaves have the best flavour.
Take some large bay leaves, dry and crush them or use whole leaves but remove them before serving or eating.
Remember that there is no hard and fast rule in cooking that stops you from changing the herbs. You don’t need to follow everything religiously that is written in the cooking book.
Sometimes replacing herbs or changing them with other herbs can help you create a new recipe. It can also enhance the aroma and flavour of your dishes as compared to using the expected herbs.
The above-mentioned bay leaf substitutes will surely give you flavour. So don’t be afraid of experimenting while cooking. Be resourceful, and enjoy cooking!