From ancient Greece across to the Indian subcontinent and East Asia, bay leaves have been used in cooking for millennia. They are the leaves the Greeks wove into wreaths to crown their heroes with.
Nowadays bay leaf is one of the commonest whole herbs to be found in kitchens and one of the easiest to buy in supermarkets. Maybe because familiarity breeds contempt, I’ve often been asked at classes if they actually taste of anything. They do. A member of the laurel family, bay leaf’s distinctive aromatic taste is in fact one of the most basic flavor agents in the cook’s kitchen arsenal, with whole leaves used to add flavor to soups and stews, or as the foundation of bouquet garnis. They are delicious lightly crumbled into marinades for fish and chicken. The only caveat is that whole bay leaves are actually inedible, and must be removed before eating. Why? They are too tough and sharp to pass through our digestive systems
Bay leaves are reputed to have many health benefits too, such as being an aid to digestion, and when applied externally as a paste, to alleviating some respiratory conditions or improving hair health and more. Thanks to the lauric acid in it, bay leaf paste can even be insect repellent! Although these benefits are unproven, bay leaves do have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, are rich in vitamins like A, C, B complex, and in minerals like iron and calcium.
Plus they make food taste really good.
Long story short, no pantry should be without them.