Bay leaf refers to the aromatic leaf of the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae). Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves are often used to flavor soups, stews, braises and pâtés in Mediterranean cuisine. The fresh leaves are very mild and do not develop their full flavor until several weeks after picking and drying. The bay laurel tree has been cultivated since the beginning of recorded history; it originated in Asia Minor, and spread to the Mediterranean and other countries with suitable climates. Bay leaf is not grown in northern regions, as the plants do not thrive in cold climates. Turkey is one of the main exporters of bay leaves.
Bay leaves are a fixture in the cooking of many European cuisines as well as in North America. They are used in soups, stews, meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. The leaves also flavor many classic French dishes. The leaves are most often used whole and removed before serving. Bay leaves can also be crushed or ground before cooking. Crushed bay leaves impart more of their desired fragrance than whole leaves, but are more difficult to remove, and thus they are often used in a muslin bag or tea infuser. Ground bay laurel may be substituted for whole leaves, and does not need to be removed, but it is much stronger. Bay leaves can also be scattered in a pantry to repel meal moths, flies and roaches.