Can You Eat Bay Leaves? (Myths Debunked!)

Oftentimes in soups, stews, marinades, and rice dishes, the secret ingredient that takes the recipe to the next level is a bay leaf.

It’s one little leaf with so much flavor.

But this made me wonder… if bay leaves add so much flavor then are bay leaves edible?

Bay leaves are edible but should not be eaten whole. In fact, bay leaf edges are quite sharp and are both a choking hazard as well as a digestive tract hazard. The only exceptions are finely ground or chopped bay leaves which can be added to a dish and eaten.

So bay leaves are edible, but should really not be eaten unless they are chopped or ground into smaller pieces.

Generally, bay leaves should be removed from any cooked dish before eating.

What Is A Bay Leaf?

Bay leaves are a flavorful and aromatic leaf from the laurel tree, a native of the Mediterranean region.

Bay leaves are used as an herb to enhance the flavor of soups, stews, marinades, and rice dishes.

Bay leaves do have a subtle flavor when allowed to simmer in a stew or soup.

The best way to determine if you like the flavor of bay leaves is to cook half a soup with the bay leaf and the other half without the leaf.

You will notice the difference and most people prefer the dish that includes the bay leaf.

Do Bay Leaves Soften When Cooking?

Over time, the bay leaves will soften slightly when cooking. However, even cooked bay leaves will not wilt and still hope their shape after hours of simmering.

So even a bay leaf that has simmered in a soup for 4 hours will still be relatively stiff and rigid making the cooked bay leaf a potential choking hazard. Not to mention, cooked bay leaves have a leathery texture which makes biting into these leaves unpleasant.

On the other hand, chopped and ground bay leaves can be eaten since the pieces will be small enough to not notice or choke on when eating the food.

Can You Cook With Fresh Bay Leaves?

Fresh bay leaves can be used instead of the dried or finely ground varieties. However, fresh bay leaves have a much strong flavor and aroma compared to dried bay leaves.

So if you decide to cook with fresh bay leaves, try using fewer bay leaves than you normally would use. More bay leaves can always be added later if the flavor of the fresh bay leaves is not strong enough.

Can You Eat Ground Bay Leaves?

Finely ground bay leaves are edible. You can add a small pinch to your dish and it will be safe to eat. However, use finely ground bay leaves in moderation as the flavor can be overpowering.

There is no health risk associated with eating ground bay leaves as you won’t have to worry about any non-existent rigid edges.

Final Thoughts

Bay leaves are a wonderful not-so-secret ingredient that should be added to all kinds of dishes.

A single bay leaf packs a ton of flavor!

Bay leaves are safe to cook with. However, bay leaves should not be eaten since they are a choking hazard and have a leathery texture that is unpleasant to eat. Simply remove the bay leaves before eating the cooked dish.

Now let’s cover some frequently asked questions when it comes to cooking with bay leaves.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Fresh Bay Leaves Poisonous?

Bay leaves that are safe for cooking are not toxic to consume.

If you swallow a piece of a bay leaf then it may be a little sharp on the edges and bitter in flavor, but it is not toxic. However, be careful as the rigid edges are a choking hazard and may harm your digestive tract.

What Are The Risks Of Consuming A Bay Leaf?

While bay leaves are edible there are two primary risks:

  1. A bay leaf may cause choking especially if you attempt to swallow it whole.
  2. The rigid edges of the leaves can harm or get stuck in your digestive tract.

The Benefits Of Cooking With Bay Leaves

Bay leaves add a ton of flavor and aromatics without the addition of salt. This is the primary benefit of cooking with bay leaves.

A bay leaf does not impact the nutritional value of your dish significantly, although it is a source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Does A Bay Leaf Really Make A Difference?

Bay leaves really do noticeably affect the flavor of a dish. Although bay leaves do have a subtle flavor that can sometimes be hard to describe, it would be noticeable if the bay leaves were missing from the recipe.

The best way to determine if you like the flavor of a bay leaf is to cook the same dish twice — one time with a bay leaf and one time without.

Personally, I cooked a stew in two pots at the same time so I could compare flavors and I did notice a difference. My verdict is to keep bay leaves in since it adds a pleasant yet subtle flavor.

How Long Do Dried Bay Leaves Last?

Dried bay leaves last for about 2 years in the pantry.

After 2 years, the bay leaves lose their aromatic flavor. You can store bay leaves in the freezer to preserve their flavors for longer but it is best to use it before the 2 years.

How Long Should Bay Leaves Cook?

Whole dried bay leaves can be added to a slow cooked dish at the beginning. Typically these leaves will simply soften over time and impart all their flavor regardless if they’re cooked for 1 hour or simmering for 5 hours.

Bay leaves cannot be overcooked as long as they are simmering inside of a soup, stew, or other slow cooked dish.

However, you want to make sure you give the bay leaves enough time to release all of their flavors. The shortest cook time I have seen with bay leaves was for 15-30 minutes.

What Can I Make With Bay Leaves?

Bay leaves can be used in soups, stews, marinades, broth, stock, sauces, rice dishes, pasta sauces, veggie dishes, and more! It is a powerful aromatic flavor enhancer for any meal.

Bay leaves thrive in dishes that take a long time to cook as there is more time for the essential oils in the bay leaves to infuse into the dish. However, it can also enhance dishes that come together quickly like rice or sautéed onions.

What Are The Edible Bay Leaf Varieties?

Edible bay leaves grow all around the world. Some of the various edible varieties are:

  • The Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) – most commonly found in grocery stores in the US
  • California bay leaf (Umbellularia californica)
  • Indian bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala)
  • Indonesian bay leaf (Syzygium polyanthum)
  • West Indian bay leaf (Pimenta racemose)
  • Mexican bay leaf (Litsea glaucescens)

Just remember to remove whole bay leaves from the dish before eating it.


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