Bay Leaf/Tej Patta: Nutrition, Health Benefits, Uses
One of the most infamous ingredients of everyone’s favourite dish – Biryani – Bay leaf is the heart of Indian cuisine. Most of the dishes do in some form make use of this ingredient. Bay leaf or tej patta, is the leaf of the Bay Laurel tree and is an aromatic herb that is used in cooking. It is native to Asia and is one of the oldest spices out there. They are a little pungent and bitter to taste if eaten as it is. This is a must-have in your spice box.
Although native to the Asia Minor region, this plant spread towards the Mediterranean is known as the laurel plant. Laurels as we know them from the ancient Greek and Roman times were associated as the symbols of honour and glory; just as we see today as being given to those people who have accomplished and achieved.
In today’s time, bay leaves are more frequently associated with the culinary world and found in a variety of dishes like soups, salads, gravies, sauces etc. There are predominantly two main types of bay leaves – the Turkish bay leaves and the California bay leaves. The Turkish Bay leaves have a lighter flavour compared to their counterparts and are more commonly found in dishes. It is fairly easy to differentiate between the two types – the Turkish leaves are short and fat whereas the California bay leaves are thin and long. Typically they are dried before using and sometimes even come in a powdered form. Fresh bay leaves are used too as the recipe calls for their use but since they have a more potent flavour, they are not used very frequently. Some other types are Greek bay leaf, Indonesian bay leaf, Indian bay leaf.
Apart from serving as an ingredient, it also has other uses such as medicinal uses, to repel pests and they are even used to freshen the air. Burning bay leaves also provide a range of health benefits which we will look into further.
What are bay leaves? Spice or Seasoning?
This aromatic leaf is a common companion of other basic ingredients and can be used as a whole or dried, as well as a powder. So, the question is whether it is a spice or a seasoning? Generally, bay leaves are not eaten as it is because of their bitter flavour and are rather used in slow-cooked dishes that require a good simmer for the flavour to be more elaborate. So, they work as a herb. Grounded bay leaves are also used as a means of spice. Most commonly used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, it is a well-rounded ingredient that gives these dishes a seasoning.
If used as a herb, they are generally added into the braising liquid to simmer and then strained out before serving because otherwise, they are prone to cause injuries or discomfort as a result of their sharp edges. Ground bay leaf generally imparts more flavour in the dish and does not need to be extracted before serving. It is used in a variety of dishes like meats, stews, dishes with tomatoes as the main ingredients and so on. Cooking with bay leaves in a powdered form generally overpowers the other flavours of the dish and so most recipes call for using them as a whole. However, to use them as whole or as powdered is still pretty much up for debate.
Cooking and health benefits of bay leaves
Bay leaf herb or spice has several health benefits too. Using them in everyday meals can help boost one’s health. They contain very few calories per serving which aren’t exactly consumed since they are removed right before the dish is served. They are rich in Vitamins both A and C, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. It also has many anti-inflammatories as well as anti-bacterial properties that can help promote health. They help improve our digestion and possess properties that can help with an irritable bowel syndrome or an upset stomach.it has certain enzymes that help in breaking down our food faster and digesting them better. The Vitamin C content in bay leaves along with antifungal properties help those who have an issue of fungal infections. Bay leaves are a good source to maintain diabetes as they help regulate blood sugar levels especially in those patients who have type diabetes. Research has also shown that they inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. It helps regulate your heart’s health by balancing out the cholesterol levels by increasing the good cholesterol levels and reducing the bad cholesterol levels. You can also read Spices that you can find in every Indian Household's masala box.
Why burn a bay leaf in your house?
Apart from being used in cooking, bay leaves uses are extended to medicinal uses too. Just like burning incense, bay leaves were also burned in places of worship. Greeks and Romans associated bay leaves with the symbolism of protection, peace as well as wisdom and held a lot of value towards them.
There are several chemicals present in bay leaves that help in relieving stress as well as anxiety. When the smoke that comes from burning bay leaves is inhaled, it helps in calming the mind and the body and has been used for centuries as a way to relieve stress. It also helps in improving the immune system.
One other major benefit of burning bay leaves is that it helps in reducing one’s anxiety. One particular chemical present, linalool, seems to have a calming effect. Inhaling the scent of burning bay leaves triggers the receptors on the olfactory sites to signal your brain to regulate emotions.
The antioxidants present in bay leaves when inhaled also work to better your immune system and can help alleviate respiratory issues or colds while maintaining your body in an order of high-function. Just like ajwain which is infused in water that is used to steam, you can add a few bay leaves to your steamer or in hot water and inhale the vapours.
So, given these several benefits of bay leaves, you should definitely consider including them as a part of your daily diet and help boost not just your culinary flavours but also your health and well-being.