Drying Bay Leaves – The Complete Guide
Bay leaves are a common herb used in a variety of recipes to enhance the flavor and add a subtle aroma to slow-cooked meats, stews, soups, and sauces.
They are fragrant leaves that are available whole or ground into a fine powder. With a floral and herbal aroma, similar to oregano and thyme, bay leaves do not soften as they cook and are, therefore, removed before serving the dish.
While fresh bay leaves have a shiny green color on the top and a paler green on the underside, the color becomes more uniform and muted when they are dried, and the flavor and aroma also intensify.
Although you can easily find dried bay leaves in your local grocery store, it is always best to dry them out at home yourself since home-dried bay leaves are greener and retain more oil in them.
So, how can you dry bay leaves? There are several different methods you can use to dry bay leaves at home that include using an oven, a microwave, a food dehydrator, or drying them naturally.
Read on to find out more about the best ways to dry bay leaves, which method works the best, how long each takes, and much more!
What Are Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves come from an evergreen shrub called the bay laurel plant that grows slowly in warmer regions. They have a thick, leathery texture and an elongated shape with pointy ends.
The bay laurel plant is grown both for ornamental purposes as well as to use its leaves for cooking, both in fresh and dried form.
Bay leaves have long been celebrated as an ornamental symbol of honor and success and adorned by emperors, Olympians, scholars, and heroes in history.
Bay leaves come in 2 main varieties: Turkish bay leaves and California bay leaves.
The former, also called Mediterranean bay leaves, is more common and has a more subtle flavor as compared to the latter, which has more potency and a slight minty taste.
You can tell the two apart by their shape, with the Turkish variety having a shorter, fatter leaf, compared to the thinner and longer shape of the California variety.
In the US, the majority of fresh bay leaves are California bay leaves while the dried ones come from Turkey.
There are other varieties of bay leaves available in different parts of the world, including the Indonesian bay leaf and the West Indian bay leaf.
What Are The Benefits Of Bay Leaves?
A classic addition to soups, stews, and Indian dishes, bay leaves add a new layer of flavor to the recipe coupled with a subtle aroma that helps lighten a hearty dish.
Other than their flavor and aroma-enhancing properties, bay leaves have some amazing health benefits as well:
- Great for digestion. These leaves help decrease the level of toxins in your body and give relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Improve heart health by reducing bad cholesterol and strengthening the heart’s capillary walls.
- Help improve insulin function and reduce blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides, all of which are great for diabetic individuals.
- Reduce stress hormones in your body, leaving you calm and relaxed.
- Reduce inflammation and help prevent health problems such as arthritis.
- Heal minor wounds with the help of their antimicrobial properties.
How To Dry Bay Leaves
There are a few very easy methods for drying bay leaves at home and they include using basic kitchen equipment such as ovens, microwaves, and food dehydrators (if you have one).
You may also opt to dry them out naturally, though, for obvious reasons, it would take longer than if you used the help of some handy kitchen gadgets.
Before you dry your bay leaves, you need to prepare them and gather the best fresh bay leaves so that you have the maximum amount of flavor and aroma in the dried version as well.
As a general rule of thumb, herbs meant for drying must always be picked during warm, sunny days since they tend to produce the most oils during the warmer months.
It is not recommended to gather them during rainy days, and you must make sure that the leaves haven’t started to tighten up.
Pick the bay leaves from plants that are at least two years old, and do so in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Be extra gentle when picking them from trees and refrain from tearing them in the process.
Once you have your fresh bay leaves, put them in boiling water for a maximum of 5 seconds since blanching allows them to dry quickly and more easily.
If, for some reason, you are unable to blanch them, rinse the leaves under cold running water to remove any dust and impurities.
Remove the stems, shake off the excess water, and dry them using a clean towel. As an alternative, you can also get good quality fresh bay leaves from the supermarket.
Next, you can proceed to dry them, which is the oldest method of preserving foods for later use. Here are the best methods of drying bay leaves!
Drying Bay Leaves In An Oven
Using the oven is an easy way to dry bay leaves that allows them to dry out individually. Although a bit time-consuming, it gives you the desired results if you have the leaves placement and oven temperature figured out.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to dry bay leaves in an oven:
- Take all the cleaned bay leaves and place them on a paper towel to let them absorb any excess moisture. Make sure to leave an adequate gap between each leaf so that they dry out properly.
- Next, take an oven tray with holes and place a baking sheet on top of it.
- Place the bay leaves on the baking sheet in a way that they do not touch each other.
- Place another baking sheet on top of the leaves and spread the remainder of the leaves. You can repeat this step up to a maximum of 5 layers of bay leaves and baking sheets.
- After you are done arranging the leaves, set the oven at a minimum temperature of 200°F and place the oven tray on the lower rack.
- Let the leaves bake in the oven for 1-2 hours until they are dry and brittle. Just make sure to keep checking on the leaves every 15 minutes to avoid burning them.
Drying Bay Leaves In A Microwave
Drying bay leaves using a microwave is a very simple and quick method that takes hardly 2-3 minutes to achieve the desired results. The only catch is that you can dry only a few bay leaves at a time.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to dry bay leaves in a microwave:
- After you have your bay leaves washed, cleaned, and patted dry, place them on a microwave-safe plate, making sure they aren’t touching one another.
- Next, put the plate in the microwave and turn it on for 30 seconds.
- Flip the leaves and turn the microwave on for another 30 seconds.
- Repeat this process 4-6 times until the leaves become completely dry and brittle.
Drying Bay Leaves In A Dehydrator
Although not the most common kitchen appliance in most households, using a food dehydrator is, albeit extremely time-consuming, the easiest and, hands down, the best way to dry bay leaves.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to dry bay leaves in a dehydrator:
- Clean the bay leaves and let them dry fully for about 1-2 hours before putting them in the dehydrator.
- Place the leaves on a dehydrator tray in a single layer, making sure they aren’t touching or overlapping to prevent uneven drying. If your dehydrator has multiple shelves, you may use two or more dehydrator trays, if need be.
- Set the dehydrator to 95°F and allow the leaves to dry for a couple of hours.
- Depending on the dehydrator and the humidity levels in the air, it can take anywhere from 1-4 hours to dry the bay leaves.
- You may refer to the instruction booklet that came with the dehydrator to check for any suggested drying times.
- Once the leaves have become dry and brittle, remove them from the dehydrator and let them cool on the kitchen counter for 1 hour.
Drying Bay Leaves Naturally
If you want to dry your bay leaves in a 100% natural way, you can easily do so by leaving them in a room that is dry, hot, well-ventilated, and not humid.
Although extremely time-consuming, if you have the time to spare, this is one of the best ways for drying bay leaves.
One important thing to note here is that you must not leave the bay leaves out in the sun because, although it’ll speed up the drying process, it will also make them wilt and lose their flavor and aroma.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to dry bay leaves naturally:
- Take a baking sheet and cover it with a single layer of paper towels,
- Arrange the bay leaves on top of the paper towels in a way that they don’t touch or overlap each other.
- Leave them in a room for at least a week, preventing any direct sun exposure.
- Flip the leaves after a week and leave them for an additional week so that they are equally dried up.
- If you notice dark green spots on the leaves, it is always better to leave them to dry for another week.
Now that we’ve discussed the best ways to dry bay leaves at home, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have!
How do you cook with dried bay leaves?
Since bay leaves do not soften even when they are cooked, they are added to recipes and then removed once the dish has finished cooking.
Simply add the dried bay leaves at the beginning of cooking so that they have more time to release flavor and aroma and infuse nicely into the recipe.
They are also great for chicken stuffing before roasting it and can even be infused in the water for cooking rice. In ground form, bay leaves can be used like spice powder.
Just keep in mind that dried bay leaves have sharp edges that may not only cut your mouth but also cause choking and damage your digestive tract. Therefore, avoid eating them and make sure to remove them before serving.
What’s the best way to store dried bay leaves?
If stored properly, dried bay leaves can easily last for 1-2 years, otherwise, they may start to develop mold.
You can either store them in a whole leaf form, break them into little pieces, crush the leaves with a rolling pin, or grind them into a fine powder.
Store the dried bay leaves in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dark place, away from direct heat and moisture so that they can retain their flavor and aroma.
You may also opt for a glass bottle to keep them in, however, if you do, choose a dark-colored one to protect the leaves from light.
What’s the best way to store fresh bay leaves?
Fresh bay leaves have a much shorter shelf life than dried bay leaves. To store them properly, wrap them in a slightly damp towel and put them in a container.
Place the container in the fridge where the leaves should last up to 2 weeks. However, for the best flavor and aroma, they must be used within 2-3 days.
How do you freeze bay leaves?
Drying and freezing both are great methods for preserving foods for later use.
If you do not wish to use dried bay leaves, you may pop some freshly picked ones in the freezer to ensure you get the maximum flavor and aroma when they are added to your recipe.
Bay leaves freeze very well due to their thin texture and low moisture content. Wash the fresh leaves under cold running water to get rid of any dirt, impurities, and pests.
Let them dry by themselves or use a paper towel to speed up the process.
Once dry, place them in a freezer bag and put them in the deepest part of the freezer. Label them with the date and use them within 3 months.
How do you tell if bay leaves have gone bad?
Instead of spoiling, bay leaves usually lose their flavor, aroma, and quality over time.
If your bay leaves are not providing the same level of flavor to your dish, it is a sign of them having lost their quality. They are, however, still safe to consume.
To check its aroma, rub a leaf with your fingers and if the smell is not as strong, it is best to discard it due to quality purposes.
Another sign to tell whether the bay leaves have been stored for too long is when they start to crumble even when lightly pressed.
Also, look out for signs of mold and weird growths on the bay leaves or in the container where they are stored. Discard them immediately if you see either of the two.