Bay leaves are every chefs best friend; they give sauces, stews and stock a delightful smell and flavor that is impossible to emulate with any other herb.
The problem is that you can’t buy just a few bay leaves at a time, they come in a packet with several of them and in most cases, they will probably remain at the back of your cupboard for months.
You can also buy fresh bay leaves, and if they are not stored properly, they will expire before the sell by date.
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Do Bay Leaves Go Bad?
Most people associate bay leaves with the dry kind, but they are also available as fresh leaves. Both types can expire; but once they have been dried out, they last a lot longer than the fresh kind.
As with all foods, if they are stored in the right way, they will last as long as they are supposed to.
How long Do Bay Leaves Last?
As mentioned, there are two types of bay leaves, fresh and dry. The length of time that bay leaves last will depend on how you store them. If you choose to house dry bay leaves in the spice cupboard, you can expect them to remain fresh for up to 3 months unopened. All is not lost if you choose to keep them past this time, you will just need to add additional leaves to your cooking pot to get the same flavor.
If you know you are not going to use your bay leaves within 3 months, the best advice is to freeze them. In this way, they will last over one year and you won’t lose any of the strong aroma and flavor bay leaves are so famous for.
On the other hand, fresh bay leaves don’t last anywhere near as long, you will need to store them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge, and you can expect them to remain fresh for up to three weeks.
|Fresh Bay Leaves
|2 – 3 weeks
Over 1 year
|Dry Bay Leaves
|2 – 3 years
Over 1 year
4 Tips to Tell If Bay Leaves Have Gone Bad
In general bay leaves won’t go bad before the expiration date if they are stored the right way. However, if water or any other liquid finds its way into the bag, they will expire. Here are 4 tips on how to tell if bay leaves have gone bad:
- Wet Leaves: When checking dry bay leaves, if you ever open a packet and there is any moisture inside, get rid of them immediately. Additionally, moisture causes fresh leaves to decay and go slimy and that is a clear indication your bay leaves have expired.
- Too Dry: Dry bay leaves are already dry, and when exposed to room temperature for too long, they get extra dry. When this happens, the leaves begin to crumble, at this point there is no point in using them.
- Mold: It is rare that you will find mold on bay leaves unless water or liquid has found a way to infiltrate the packaging. If you don’t catch the moisture early, there is a chance that the leaves will go moldy.
- Smell: Bay leaves have got a strong smell, if they have been in the cupboard for several months, they will lose their strength. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve expired, but you won’t get the same flavor and aroma that you would if the bay leaves were fresh.
6 Tips to Store Bay Leaves
Bay leaves fall under the herb category, and they are extremely sensitive to light and heat. Over exposure leads to a diminished aroma and flavor. Therefore, it is best they are stored in a cool and dark location. Here are five tips on how to store bay leaves:
1. In the Fridge:
Fresh bay leaves must be stored in the fridge, the best way to do this is to follow these steps:
- Wash Them: Put the leaves in a bowl and fill it with cold water. Use your hands to gently swirl them around in the water to get rid of any dirt that might be trapped in the leaves. Use a colander to drain the water. Lay some paper towels down on the kitchen counter and spread the bay leaves out on them to dry. Put some paper towels over the top to gently blot any remaining water.
- Ziploc Bag: Once the bay leaves are dry, transfer them into a Ziploc bag, stick a date of purchase label on the front and put them in the fridge.
2. Don’t Expose Bay Leaves to Light:
Fresh herbs turn yellow when they are exposed to light. This is because it damages the chlorophyll; this is especially true for delicate and thin herbs such as bay leaves.
3. Don’t Expose Bay Leaves to Oxygen:
The reason why it’s important to put your fresh bay leaves in a Ziploc bag is that when they are exposed to too much oxygen, they start turning brown.
4. Don’t Expose Them to Moisture:
It is essential that you wash your bay leaves to get rid of any debris. However, the drying process is critical, you want to ensure that there is no water remaining because it accelerates the decaying process and can cause them to become moldy and slimy.
5. The Right Temperature:
It is important that you put fresh herbs in the fridge immediately or they will quickly lose flavor and start to decay.
Additionally, you don’t want to put them at the back or the top shelf of the freezer because this will cause them to start freezing. The ice crystals will lead to cell damage and will turn the bay leaves mushy.
6. Freeze Them:
Once frozen, bay leaves will keep their smell and flavor. To freeze dry bay leaves, you can simply transfer them into a Ziploc bag and put them in the freezer. To freeze fresh bay leaves, you can use one of the following methods:
- Ice Cube Tray: Get a clean ice cube tray and press the bay leaves into each section. Drizzle a thin layer of oil over the top. Put them into the freezer for a couple of hours, once they have frozen, pop them out into a Ziploc bag, stick a date of purchase label on the bag and leave them in the freezer.
- Freezer Bag: Add the bay leaves to a Ziploc bag, top them with 2 tablespoons of oil, seal the bag and press it down so that the bay leaves are in a thin even layer. Additionally, press out any oil, add a date of purchase label to the bag and freeze.
The Risk of Consuming Expired Bay Leaves?
It is not advised that you consume any foods past their sell by date. However, sometimes, you are unaware that the food has gone bad and eat it anyway. The health risks associated with eating expired bay leaves are low, nevertheless, you should ensure you have checked that the leaves are good enough to eat before consuming them. Here are some of the risks associated with eating expired bay leaves.
If you have accidently eaten expired bay leaves, there is a chance that you could get minor food poisoning. Here are some of the symptoms associated with food poisoning.
- Nausea: You will feel as if you want to throw up, and in some cases you may even vomit.
- Diarrhea: You will need to use the toilet several times per day. During which time you will experience painful stomach cramps.
- Headache: Your head will hurt despite the fact that you are not dehydrated, have not been exposed to excessive sunlight neither have you had an accident where you sustained a head injury.
- Pain in the stomach: The pain will feel like mild stomach cramps.
- Loss of appetite: Despite the fact that you haven’t eaten in a while, you will not have any desire to eat.
As mentioned, these symptoms are not life-threatening, you should be able to treat them at home with over the counter medication or a home remedy; however, if you do find that you experience them for longer than a couple of days, or they are excruciatingly painful, you will need to book an appointment with your healthcare provider. If the pain escalates quickly, it is best advised that you take a trip to accident and emergency.
Can You Freeze Bay Leaves?
Yes, you can freeze bay leaves; and in this way, you will keep them way past the expiration date.
When you are ready to use the bay leaves, there is no need to defrost them, since you are going to use them to cook, simply add them to the pot once it gets hot.
You can freeze fresh or dry bay leaves; you can read how to do this in another section.
The main aim of using bay leaves is to achieve a rich and succulent flavor when cooking. If that’s what your looking for, and you just happen to find an expired packet of bay leaves in the back of the cupboard before cooking, you may as well make your way to the store and buy some more.