Can bay leaves kill you?

In this article, we will answer the following question: Can bay leaves kill you? We will tell you which types of bay leaves are edible and which types are dangerous. We will also talk about the use of bay leaf in the kitchen and how to store it long term.

Can bay leaves kill you?

No, bay leaves are non-toxic in nature and consumption is non-threatening to humans. However, the bay leaf remains very stiff even after cooking, thus can lead to indigestion or digestive problems. It can also become a choking hazard.

The leaves produced by Laurus nobilis are non-toxic. However, certain species with the name “laurel” or “bay” can be really poisonous and should be avoided, while others can be perfectly safe. Don’t take chances if you’re not sure. Limit cooking with bay leaves to those available in supermarkets or that you grow yourself.

Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), also known by various names such as: bay leaf, sweet bay leaf, Greek bay leaf, or true bay leaf, is prized for its aromatic leaves that add a distinctive flavor to a variety of hot dishes. However, this delicious Mediterranean tree has a reputation for being toxic. What is the real truth about bay leaves? Are they poisonous? What laurels are edible? Can you cook with all the bay leaves, or are some bay leaves toxic? Let’s explore the topic.

About edible bay leaves

So which bay leaves are edible? Royal bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are safe, but the leathery leaves, which can be sharp at the edges, should always be removed from the plate before serving.

Additionally, the following “bay” plants are also considered safe. Like Laurus nobilis, they are all within the Lauraceae family:

Indian bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala), also known as Indian cassia or Malabar leaf, looks a lot like bay leaves, but the taste and aroma are more like cinnamon. The leaves are often used as an ornament.

Mexican bay leaf (Litsea glaucescens) is often used in place of Laurus nobilis. The leaves are rich in essential oils.

California laurel (Umbellularia californica), also known as Oregon myrtle or pepper wood, is safe to use for culinary purposes, although the flavor is spicier and more intense than Laurus nobilis.

Inedible bay leaves

Beware of the toxic trees in the bay. The following trees have toxic compounds and are inedible. They may have similar names and the leaves may look like regular bay leaves, but they belong to completely different plant families and are not related to bay.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia): All parts of the plant are toxic. Even honey made from the flowers can induce gastrointestinal pain if eaten in large quantities.

Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus): All parts of the plants are toxic and can cause life-threatening respiratory problems.

Note: Although bay leaves are safe when used in small amounts, they can be toxic to horses, dogs, and cats. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting.

How to use bay leaf?

In the Middle Ages, bay leaves were used as medicine and as an insecticide, but also in the kitchen, where they were used to prepare meat roasts, soups, broths, and sauces; just as we continue to do in the XXI century.

Perhaps less common is their use to flavor a good bean dish, and they go especially well with lentils. It is also highly recommended to use it when our dishes ask for cloves as the bay leaves help to balance and enhance the flavor of this spice.

If we want to use the bay leaf in sweet dishes, it goes very well in puddings and ice creams, which greatly enhance the flavor and aroma of laurel, allowing us to taste it in a better way, since its properties are not overshadowed by those of other ingredients.

In addition, it is important to know that bay leaves should be treated as if they were a spice, considering that spices are more harmonious than aromatic herbs and can be combined more easily. Let us remember that bay leaves make a dish more complex and interesting; It may not be the most important, but it ensures to turn it into a party of flavor.

Although it is not very common to find fresh bay leaves, it is always necessary to bear in mind that its eucalyptus flavor is much more powerful when it is fresh than when the leaves are dry. Thus, fresh bay leaves much better when used in desserts, providing a touch of freshness.

Also, it is necessary to remember that bay leaves grow in very dry sunny climates, like oregano or rosemary, so they retain their flavor better after they dry, unlike what happens with other herbs such as coriander, parsley, or basil.

How to store bay leaf?

The preservation of the aroma and flavor properties of spices and aromatic herbs depends a lot on how we store them, so it is recommended to use them for a period of no more than one year in order to get the most out of them.

We must try to keep them in a hermetically closed glass jar, and if we want to keep them for many years, it is best to keep them in the freezer.

The bottom line

We remind you that the following types of bay leaves can be dangerous

  • Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
  • Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

And that the  following types of bay leaves are safe to consume:

  • Indian bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala)
  • Mexican bay leaf (Litsea glaucescens)
  • California laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

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