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Fresh bay leaves in San Diego?

So this kind of entertaining article showed up on my Facebook feed today: the writer asked about at least a dozen NY chefs if they thought that "bay leaves are bulls**t". None of them said an unequivocal yes, but a few of them said that the stale dried out ones sitting in the pantry since 1996 might be. Also, many of them said that fresh bay leaves were the way to go. I am afraid to say that I am fairly well acquainted with the stale, dried variety, but I have never in my life seen or used fresh bay leaves, and this mention of them piqued my interest. Trouble is I've never seen them anywhere in San Diego (not that I've really looked). I can find them online but I'd rather find them at a retailer or farmers market if I can (it's a rather large amount that's available online). Anyone have any ideas about where I might find them in San Diego? (Btw, I am not intending to start my own debate here about whether or not bay leaves are bulls**t; I don't think they are. I'd just like to see if I can find some fresh ones to try.). Thanks in advance!

Kristen W. is a trusted home cook.

asked 9 months ago
19 answers 658 views
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Kristen W.

Kristen W. is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

Well, I should say I've never in my life seen them in a grocery store - I'm sure I've seen them on trees!

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luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

Just bought a box at my local grocer. Also got some in a Secret Santa Food52 gift. Like them dried and fresh but can't say I have much of a palate. Like almost everything!

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cv
added 9 months ago

The aroma and flavor strength depend on the cultivar or variety of the bay leaf tree. Some do not develop their aroma until the leaves have been picked and dried. Others are noticeably fragrant when they are still fresh. This is similar to many other herbs.

I've been gifted fresh bay leaves from time to time by others. I'm here in California, so I'm assuming that these are California bay leaves instead of the typical Mediterranean ones that are normal to grocery stores.

It should be pointed out that the bay leaves have been used in culinary applications since the ancient Greeks and undoubtedly used dried at times.

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Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

added 9 months ago

You can get them in our Shop! https://food52.com/shop...

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added 9 months ago

I know zip about bay leaves but this article seems on topic( even if the issue is not fresh or dried)
http://www.seriouseats...

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Trena Heinrich

Trena is a trusted source on general cooking.

added 9 months ago

When I lived in California I had a favorite tree where I would pick fresh bay leaves a couple of times a year. Bay Laurel grows all over the state, so I'd suggest finding a tree which hasn't been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, as friends for their sources. Especially any friends who studied plant science. California bay which has an almost sickening sweet smell to the leaves is also edible, however some people are reported to get headaches from this variety. If you'll be foraging go with a knowledgeable friend who can teach you the differences between edible and non-edible varieties. If you can't forage, perhaps you can grow your own tree, if you can't grow a tree, then yes, buy the freshest jar you can. Best of luck!

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added 9 months ago

I live near milw and they are available in the fresh produce section of many supermarkets here---I expect also in your region. I've been growing one in a container and using it for 20-30 years-- if you have a sunny balcony or garden, you could do the same; buy a plant at a good garden center or farmers mkt. I've always used them in stocks or soups but lately been influenced by a book called New Sugar and Spice by Seneveriratne who uses it to flavor rice pudding---that was so good----I've since used it in oatmeal; wonderfully warm subtle spice flavor----well worth experimenting with!!!

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added 9 months ago

I am from Southern California where they are common as a topiary but have one (I am sure it's CA laurel) purchased small at a nursery here in Maine for years. Easy to grow in a pot, attractive and certainly useful for savory or sweet. The leaves are not as astringent as Turkish dried, but have a very slight sweetness which I like - perhaps that can be attributed to it's "terroir" (pretentious much?). The leaves are also available in local groceries in the little plastic boxes. Mine, of course, are better (!) and can't wait to try the rice pudding.

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added 9 months ago

Be sure not to confuse California bay (Umbellularia Californica) with European (Laurus Nobilis)- the leaves of California Bay are pretty rank. Some people find necklaces of Ca. bay leaves useful as a flea collar for dogs; some say they give their dogs headaches. There also exists a hybrid between the two trees, which is OK for cooking in a pinch.

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added 9 months ago

Come to think of it, that flea collar thing was Eucalyptus, not Bay leaves.

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Susan W

Susan W is a trusted source on General Cooking.

added 9 months ago

Have you tried Sprouts? Whole Foods? Barons (bonus..best olives in the world there)? Here in Portland, even my neighborhood stores have them. I usually buy a couple of small branches and freeze them.

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Susan W

Susan W is a trusted source on General Cooking.

added 9 months ago

If you fall in love with them, California Bay Laurels are very common down there and easy to grow.

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added 9 months ago

European laurel is also quite common in California, and grows very well in our Mediterranean climate. My favorite is a clone that a forest geneticist friend brought back from Greece years ago, but it's not commercially available.

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added 9 months ago

The Whole Foods Market on 711 University Ave carries fresh bay leaves in the fresh produce department (I just called to double check).

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added 9 months ago

Besides that, I love fresh bay leaves and use it all the time. My husband jokes that I use it every time I boil water, provided I'm not making pasta.
I think the fresh herb has a much more vibrant flavor compared to the dried stuff, but I suppose I only buy it from the same place...

My mother in law who lives in the Italian Riveria, just goes outside and picks it from the trees that grow all around the village. I can get it fresh at my supermarket, but I also recently purchased a tree. They are really hardy in Meditterrean type climates. You can obviously use it to cook, and I think it makes a really pretty hedge/tree.

http://homeguides.sfgate...

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Kristen W.

Kristen W. is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

Thanks for all the input, everyone! Susan W, the Sprouts in my neighborhood doesn't carry them. Don't know Barons (I'm in La Mesa, technically, so maybe not an East County thing?). I thought Whole Paycheck might; I just asked the hotline before I actually called them, and then FF called them for me - thank you! Even though I don't go to Whole foods very often since it's not in my immediate vicinity, that sounds like the easiest bet so far. Foraging sounds like it would be a lovely excursion, but schedule-wise probably not in the cards for me in the near future. Thanks also for the input re: using them!

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Susan W

Susan W is a trusted source on General Cooking.

added 9 months ago

Mom has a bay laurel on her patio. I had no idea they could be grown in pots. She said "oh honey, just have her stop by for a load of leaves". Lol. I love my mom.

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Kristen W.

Kristen W. is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

Aw, how sweet! I didn't know they could be grown in pots either until now!

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added 9 months ago

Anything can be grown in pots. Bay trees will root out even large pots fairly soon; to keep them more than a few years they will need to be root pruned regularly- not difficult, but it tends to happen at a time of year when gardening isn't much fun. Replacing them regularly is pretty easy, though, and they will quickly grow large enough to supply all the leaves you need.