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Laurel (Bay leaves, Laurus nobilis)

Plant family

Lauraceae (laurel family).

Botanical synonyms



Probably Asia Minor. Today, the laurel tree grows all over the Mediterranean. Turkey is one of the main exporters.

Used plant part

Leaves. Industrially, laurel oil is prepared from the fruits, which may also be used as a spice.

Sensoric quality

Aromatic and slightly bitter.

Main constituents

The essential oil from the leaves (0.8 to 3%) contains mostly 1,8 cineol (50%); furthermore, eugenol, acetyl eugenol, methyl eugenol, a- and -pinene, phellandrene, linalool, geraniol and terpineol are found.

The dried fruits contain 0.6 to 10% of essential oil, depending on provenance and storage conditions. Like the leaves, the aroma is mostly due to terpenes (cineol, terpineol, a- and -pinene, citral), but also cinnamic acid and its methyl ester are reported

Bay leaves: lower side, upper side, old (discoloured) leaf


Bay leaves were considered holy and associated with Apollo in the classic Greek era. Although the winners of the famous Olympic games, held every four years beginning in 776 in Olympia in honour of Zeus, were originally decorated with a wreath of olive twigs, the later use of laurel wreaths is more known today. The change from olive to laurel was due to the influence of the Pythian Games, which were conducted in honour of Apollo in Delphi (Southern Greece), starting 582. Within a decade after opening the Pythian Games to all Greeks, two more festivals arose which were, in contrast, held every second year.

Much later, the Roman Emperors made use of the laurel wreath as a symbol of the god Apollo; furthermore, bay leaves were a popular spice in Roman cookery.

Today, bay leaves are a rather common flavouring in all Western countries; they are used for soups, stews, sauces, pickles and sausages; several fish dishes profit greatly from bay leaves. In contrast to the majority of leave spices, bay leaves can be cooked for several time without much aroma loss.

Fresh or dried bay leaves frequently show up in bouquet garni. Fresh bay leaves are very strongly aromatic, but also quite bitter; by an appropriate drying procedure, bitterness is significantly reduced, and the flavour can even improve. After manual plucking and sorting, the leaves are quickly dried without exposure to sunlight. High-quality bay leaves are easily recognized not only by their strong aroma, but also by their bright green colour. A rule of thumb holds: The greener the colour, the better the quality. Bay leaves cannot, however, be stored as long as their tough texture might suggest, but should not be kept more than one year after plucking. Overaged leaves have lost their fragrance, show a brownish hue and taste mostly bitter.

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