Ina Garten Isn't Actually Sure If Bay Leaves Make A Difference

Anyone who loves to cook and make tasty dishes in the kitchen is, without a doubt, an avid user of spices and aromatic herbs. These ingredients provide our dishes with additional flavors and aromas that we're so used to, and it's hard to imagine what a dish would taste like without them. 

One of the most common herbs you need in your home kitchen is the humble bay leaf. But what are bay leaves, exactly? Escoffier reports that bay leaves "are the foliage of the bay laurel tree." They're typically added whole to different dishes, but once the dishes are cooked, they are removed. There are two main types of bay leaves: Turkish (Laurus nobilis) and Californian (Umbellularia californica). The key difference is that the Californian ones are more intense, both in aroma and flavor. 

According to Britannica, bay leaves are described as fragrant, yet bitter, and they're most commonly used to flavor stews, fish, and stuffings. Interestingly enough, these thick green leaves have been grown since ancient times, and they're often seen in the wreaths of ancient Greeks. 

Besides, the versatile bay leaves are natural bug repellents, and the wood of California bay leaves is often used to make wooden cookware and furniture (per Zizira). What more could we ask for? Well, it seems like one celebrity chef is not that sure if adding bay leaves to dishes makes any difference at all.

Bay leaves add subtle flavor and depth to slowly simmered dishes

"The New Yorker Radio Hour" hosted chef Ina Garten as a guest, and she received a question from a Californian listener who wanted to know, "Are bay leaves BS?" Garten, who's become a household name over the years and is most famous for her hit show "Barefoot Contessa" on Food Network, surprised all of us by saying that she doesn't have an answer because she's also wondering whether adding bay leaves to our food makes any difference. Who would have thought? The famous chef clarified that she never made a dish without bay leaves if the recipe called for them, so she doesn't know if omitting them would make a difference. The show's host, David Remnick, then aptly declared, "Ina calls BS on bay leaves." 

Luckily, we know some things about bay leaves as well. Bon Appetit reports that bay leaves develop a flavor reminiscent of menthol and spearmint, with "subtle hints of black pepper and Christmas tree pine." But the flavors only develop if the herb is infused in liquids such as broth and water. 

And a senior editor at MyRecipes revealed that bay leaves are not that intense in terms of aroma. Instead, they add a subtle flavor and depth to slowly simmered stews or soups. In the end, we don't really taste the intensity of bay leaves in our food, but we'd surely notice the difference if they were missing.