Are Bay Leaves Edible? How To Identify The Right Types

Akinwalere Olaleye
Oct 05, 2023 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Oct 09, 2021
Bay leaves on a straw background with pepper.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.0 Min

A bay leaf is a type of leaf that will enhance the aroma of your food when cooking.

Common bay leaves, also called the sweet bay or bay laurel, belong to a woody shrub of the Mediterranean, called Laurus nobilis. The dried olive green leaf of the shrub when introduced in food adds a fresh aroma to the dish.

The utilization of dried bay leaves has been on the scene since the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations and they were woven into garlands at that time. Later, the leaves were introduced as a flavorful culinary item that is currently used all over the world.

They contain essential oils from which the subtle fresh aroma comes from in these dishes.

Bay leaves are available in two forms in the store, fresh or dried, however the latter is more commonly used than the former. A leaf or two added in stews of soups enhances the aromatic flavor of the food.

Despite so many important uses in the culinary sector, surprisingly bay leaves are not eaten by humans. It is removed from soups or stews immediately after the fresh flavor of the leaf diffuses in the dish.

There's an age-old belief that a bay leaf is poisonous and if you accidentally chew on one, you could die.

In reality, except for two types of laurel leaves, most of them are harmless in nature. Technically, you can eat bay leaves but the pungent smell and bitter taste makes it unpleasant for the mouth.

Therefore, it is recommended to use a whole bay leaf or ground herbs in your food rather than eating them whole.

A whole bay can be removed after the soup or the stew is cooked but powder or ground bay herbs remain in food for flavor. This further shows they do not have any poisonous effects on the body.

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read about are almonds nuts and are beans a vegetable.

Are all bay leaves edible?

When you think of bay leaves, you only think about the refreshing flavor and aroma it adds to your food. This is because the most commonly used bay leaf of the Laurel nobilis plant is not toxic.

They are technically edible too. However, there are some bays that cannot be eaten or used in cooking because they are poisonous in nature.

There are some members of the laurel family that are of toxic nature like the cherry laurel or mountain laurel. They are not sold in the market for commercial purposes.

However, there are some bay leaves that can be used whole or in powder form as a flavorful spice. The visual similarities of edible and non-edible bay leaves had led to the belief that all bay laurel is poisonous. A bay leaf is stiff and rigid and swallowing it might be difficult.

Therefore they are removed from soup, stew, or broth before serving. Eating herbs could also cause choking as they are never digested.

How to identify edible bay leaves?

It is generally difficult to tell the difference between an edible and a non-edible bay leaf as all the varieties look similar to each other. They also grow in the same region, overlapping each other's range and therefore increasing the confusion. Luckily, there are some identifying features that set apart an edible bay leaf from the non-edible one.

Not all types of bay leaves that can't be used for cooking are poisonous. Most of them are non-toxic but because of their bitter and flavorless taste, they are not used in recipes. Their habitat preference differs from the habitats of edible bay leaves. The poisonous mountain and cherry laurel plants containing poison compounds belong to different families.

Laurel nobilis or the bay laurel is actually a safe and edible bay leaf but because of the sharp edges and leathery texture of the leaf, it is removed before serving the stew or soup.

Apart from bay laurel, there are some other bay leaves like Indian bay leaf, Mexican bay leaf, and California laurel that can be used to cook.

Additionally, an edible bay leaf is identified by the bay-like smell that comes out when the leaf is crushed. This herbal smell may be absent in non-edible leaves.

Glass bottle of essential bay laurel oil.

Types Of Bay Leaves

There are several types of bay leaves that occur on earth. Six of them have been recognized as edible and the rest you might not want to eat.

Bay leaves of the Mediterranean tree, Laurel nobilis, is the most commonly used leaf. There are many uses for bay leaves. They are used as whole or in powdered form in the food to add a refreshing flavor. Bay leaves benefit the digestive system and they are mixed mildly with herbal tea.

The California bay leaf is similar to the bay laurel but they have a stronger flavor than the latter ones.

The Indian bay leaf differs in taste and appearance from the above ones to complement the Indian cuisine. They have a more cinnamon-like fragrance with a milder flavor.

There are also three other types of bay leaves call the Indonesian bay leaf, West Indian bay leaf, and Mexican bay leaf that can be eaten.

Some non-edible bay leaves include red bay, swamp bay, and loblolly bay.

What kind of bay leaves are poisonous?

Some bay leaves contain toxins while some of them are safe to eat. Two kinds of bay leaves are detected to be harmful if you eat them.

All parts of the mountain laurel tree and cherry laurel tree are toxic in nature. They are completely unrelated to bay laurel but the leaves look extremely similar to each other.

If you eat a large amount of honey made from the former tree, it might cause immense gastrointestinal pain. The latter laurel tree causes fatal respiratory problems when it is consumed.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for are bay leaves edible then why not take a look at are birds warm-blooded, or are black diamonds real?

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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