Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

bay leaf from the tree Laurus nobilis, is one of the most widely used herbs in European and N. American cooking. The tree is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, but will grow much further north. It belongs to the family Lauraceae, which also includes cassia, cinnamon, sassafras, and the avocado.

The bay was the laurel with which poets and victorious warriors and athletes were crowned in classical times. In French it has kept the name laurier; and a notorious trap for translators of French recipes is to render this as ‘laurel leaves’, which in English may be taken to mean the larger leaves of Prunus laurocerasus, the cherry laurel; these can be used in minuscule quantity for flavouring custards and the like, but are harmful in larger amounts.