Are Bay Leaves Useful? According to Ina Garten, Maybe Not.

published Dec 20, 2022
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UNE 20: Chef Ina Garten arrives at EAT (RED) Food & Film Fest! at Bryant Park on June 20, 2017 in New York City.
Credit: Getty Images/ Michael Loccisano / Staff

Have you ever had a moment when you’ve read through a recipe and questioned whether it’s actually necessary to add every single ingredient that’s on the list? Surely each one must have its specific purpose, which lends to the final form of flavor, even if it does call for just a “pinch,” right? After doing some research, there seems to be one ingredient that is the poster child for this sort of dilemma: bay leaves. And as such, you just might be surprised how hard it is to actually get a definitive answer on the subject of whether they add anything to a dish or not.

While sitting in as a guest on The New Yorker Radio Hour, Ina Garten fielded a question from one inquisitive listener regarding the bay leaf quandary. Alex Lewin of Berkeley, California, described a memory of a short story where a character fishes a bay leaf out of a bowl of soup and flicks it away, telling his dining companion that bay leaves are BS. “Ever since then, I have been nagged with the question: Are bay leaves BS?”

Unfortunately for Alex (and the rest of us with inquiring minds on the subject), Ina is just as lost as we are. “I really don’t know the answer to this, and I will say that I also always wonder whether a bay leaf makes a difference,” she responded.

Ina goes on to explain that she does have a few recipes that call for bay leaves, and has always wanted to make the recipes without the bay leaves to see if it would make a difference. The verdict, however, is still out on that because she has yet to try it. 

While host David Remnick exclaimed, “Ina calls BS on bay leaves,” I think it’s safe to assume it’s all about the proportions. If all you have are small bay leaves, and the recipe calls for just one bay leaf, you might need to add two or three instead. The freshness of the bay leaf is also a huge factor in the effectiveness overall. Dried-up bay leaves of smaller size seem to be the culprit in this mystery, if you ask me. 

Want to find out for yourself? Try these cider-glazed chorizo stuffed sweet potatoes or this one-pot Italian beef with garlic-butter bread bombs and really put this bay leaf theory to the test.