Crushed bay leaf and whole bay leaf are two versions of the same herb. They will both give your dishes the bay leaf flavor, but that does not mean that they are always interchangeable. In the SPICEography Showdown below, we will look at what makes these spices similar and where they differ.
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How does crushed bay leaf differ from whole bay leaf?
Crushed bay leaves and whole bay leaves have different appearances. The crushed bay leaf consists of the bay leaf broken down into small pieces that look like flakes of oregano. Whole bay leaves are almond-shaped bay laurel leaves that can vary in size between one and three inches.
Another big difference between crushed bay leaves and whole ones is the ease of removal from dishes. Bay leaves are stiff and do not soften even with long cooking. Crushed bay leaves retain their hard texture, so what you will get are tiny shards in your dish. Unlike herbs like rosemary and thyme that can be tied into bundles to make them easy to grab, crushed bay leaf pieces will be distributed throughout your dish like little chips of plastic and hard to remove. Whole bay leaves do present a choking hazard if left in a dish but are easily removed in one piece. The leaves don’t normally break apart, so you only have one thing to find and remove.
Crushed bay leaves and whole bay leaves give their flavor to your dishes in different ways. Crushing bay leaves expands their surface area, so more of their flavor infuses into liquids in less time. The less time required to release flavor can be beneficial for fast-cooking dishes, but it may be a liability for longer cooking ones. It is easy to make a dish bitter and astringent with crushed bay leaves by cooking them for just a little too long. Cook whole bay leaves for long periods, and they will release only a small or moderate amount of their flavor. It is difficult to over-flavor a dish with whole bay leaves unless you add way too many or cook them for far too long.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Crushed bay leaves make an excellent substitute for whole bay leaves since they will provide the same flavor; however, you have to use them correctly. Tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth or a cheesecloth sachet ahead of time, or you will have to strain sauces and soups to remove them. You should also add crushed bay leaf later in the dish than whole bay leaf, since its flavor infuses rapidly.
Whole bay leaf makes a good — but not excellent — substitute for crushed bay leaf. The reason it’s merely good is that you need to cook it for a long time. While you could crush it — in theory — to make crushed bay leaves, this is not practical for most people. You could only do it in a blender if you had a lot of leaves, and even then, you would need the kind of blender used in professional kitchens, since bay leaves are notoriously stiff. There’s a possibility that the leaves would just bounce off the blades. That said, a whole bay leaf will provide the same flavor if you steep it in liquid for a long time and then add that liquid to your dish.
When should you use crushed bay leaves?
Use crushed bay leaves in curries and braised dishes that only cook for a short time. You can also make bay leaf tea with it, as long as you use cheesecloth or an infuser.