The evergreen bay, or laurel, tree is native to the Mediterranean but thrives wherever the climate is similar. About 3 inches long, thick and shiny, the leaves are used dry or fresh with meats, fish, vegetables, stews, soups, pâtés, marinades, and fruits. The subtle pine-camphor aroma is slightly bitter when fresh but takes on a sweetness as it dries.
Indian Bay, also known as cinnamon leaf, has a decidedly cinnamon flavor. It’s used extensively in kormas and curries. California Bay is a more potent, mentholated variety, and is best when not overcooked. Indonesian Bay is actually in the myrtle family and has the subtle essence of anise.
Common bay leaves are available dried at most markets. Looking for specific Turkish or California bay may require a trip online (savoryspiceshop.com). You can find Indian Bay at Indian markets, but Indonesian is a little trickier to find, unless you live near an Indonesian community.
Many people prefer to remove the bay leaves from a dish before serving, but I like the look of them. Since they don’t hurt and won’t make anyone ill, I leave them in for beauty and aroma. People can eat around them.