Years ago while in a High School Home Economics class, in which only girls were allowed to participate at the time (can you believe it?) we were told to never, never, never eat bay leaves. Bay leaves were poisonous and could do nasty things to your body. Hmm, but yet we put them our soups, sauces, and stews. Back in the day our teacher was so convinced of the dangers of bay leaves we had to sign-out a bay leaf and return it to the teacher to guarantee it was out of our product prior to serving. To this day many recipes warn cooks to remove bay leaves prior to serving a dish that included the leaves in the preparation. I have to know why! Don’t you?
So what’s the story of bay leaves? Bay leaves add a wonderful seasoning to many foods. I love to use them in baked cod, in a cream sauce for my chicken, and in my vegetable soup. Bay leaves provide a flavor similar to oregano, but deeper and more rounded, not as sharp as oregano.
The ‘news’ is bay leaves are not poisonous. That is a kictchen myth. However there is a hazard associated with bay leaves. A bay leaf has a very sharp and hard edge. If you ever use bay leaves you will notice the leaf doesn’t really soften when cooked. Bay leaves are removed from foods as they present a choking hazard. Choking hazards have no place in your food! Bay leaves if swallowed, which itself is hard to do, can also get lodged in your intestines and predicate additional problems.
On a recent trip to my food coop every container of bay leaves included this warning on the label: Always remove bay leaves prior to serving. Take heed, and follow directions! Remove bay leaves to insure your food is enjoyed without worry. Keep track of how many leaves you add to your dishes. The number put in should equal the number you take out. Simple. Never buy inexpensive, broken leaves, as they are very difficult to keep track of. Spend a tiny bit more and purchase whole leaves. You and your guests will be glad you did. If you find little bits of leaves in your container these can be used but tuck them inside a tea strainer. These strainers snap securely shut and have a hook to fasten to the edge of your pot to make removal easy.
Bay leaves are a wonderful spice and should be used to help create deep, rich flavors. Just remember to take them out. After all, no one wants a guest choking at their table.