100% Organic Bay Leaves – Whoopie?

While I’d like nothing better than to find out why and how “100% Organic” Bay leaves are different or better than what I get from any other most excellent purveyors in my area. I think I’ll take turn with this post. See, Creepy E bought these fine leaves from our local Raley’s market for about $7.29. The recipe he had called for Bay Leaves, and he needed some. Being as picky as most of us food types are, he opted for the organic ones. Wanna know what caused him to call the company?

That’s right, these are NOT the warm and lovely Mediterranean version of the bay leaf. Both he and I opened the jar to find this highly sparky bay waft that causes one to say, “Dang, what the heck is THAT?” It’s the California Bay Laurel. Also known as the Oregon Myrtle, Pepperwood or Headache Tree, that’s what. These are not the leaves your recipe called for and would certainly ruin your dinner. Unless you knew what they were and pulled them early so as not to over-flavor your dish.
Creepy E called Morton & Bassett, located in San Francisco to see what the scoop was. They admitted on the phone that they were California Bay. But what he wanted to know was why they didn’t label them as such? The woman on the phone apologized that he wasn’t happy with his jar of bay leaves. Creepy E explained that it wasn’t that he wasn’t happy with his purchase, it was the fact it was mislabeled and these leaves are absolutely not a substitute for the warmer, milder Mediterranean version. And that was pretty much how it was left.
Low and behold, on M&B’s web site in the About section they state the following:

“While the large spice companies were selling traditional Turkish Bay Leaves, Morton & Bassett carried big, bright California Bay Leaves.”

Eh? Just because a spice or herb is Big & Bright, it’s better? Where the hell are we, Texas!?!
Sigh. Ya know, if I’m going to pay approximately $1150.00 a pound for my Bay Leaves, I would at least like them labeled properly. Stop laughing, foo. Do the math, .1 ounce at 7.29 comes to 72.90 an ounce. Multiply 72.90 x 16 (16 ounces to a pound) and you get $1166.40 a pound. Not bad for something that’s indigenous to California and Oregon, eh?
Hmm, I need to wrap this up so there’s a moral or at least some closure here. I don’t have much other than to say, “Pay the fuck attention to what you’re buying.” Use your senses and your brain. Smell the ingredients you use, stop and count your pennies. Is a Hoffman chicken worth the money? Yes. Are organic California Bay leaves? Maybe so, maybe not. That’s up to you, the consumer.
Good luck!
ps – The California Bay (I’m really tired of typing those two words) is called the Headache Tree because if the foliage is crushed and breathed in to excess, you get a headache. Talk to Owen of Tomatilla about that one.

14 thoughts on “100% Organic Bay Leaves – Whoopie?

  1. $7.29 a bottle!? Grandpa Gene gets fresh, organic California Bay Laurel leaves from the local regional park for free!!! Oh, and you only use half as many bay leaves in whatever you’re cooking ’cause the flavor is that strong. Anyway… don’t pay anyone for California Bay Laurel. That’s just nuts.

  2. Well, there’s that and the fact the California version ain’t even in the same genus as the milder Mediterranean & Indian ones.
    That must be important, right?

  3. Thanks for dropping me in this one! Actually I quite like using them as a replacement – works for me – but I also go into it knowing in advance that I’ll use half what the original recipe calls for – and still end up with a stronger flavor.
    The headache thing is oh so true. See – we have two of these suckers – one is about 100 feet tall, so at over $1000 a pound I reckon I’m looking at a good $100,000 tree there. And it drops about 20 pounds of those leaves every fall and then I get to rake them up and I get a migraine from the oil in the drying leaves – every single time.

  4. Well, that and the fact that the California Bay makes stuff tastes like it was dipped in Vicks VapoRub. (eww)

  5. Glad to see this discourse. California bay leaves are potent. Each year the ground in Old Mill Park is covered with shredded stuff to keep the dust down during the arts festival — lots of bay and some eucalyptus as well. I have to go really early to keep from getting the headache Owen described, before people have trampled all those oils out into the atmosphere….The Mediterranean bay is the one to use for cooking; it’s easier to adjust by taste and doesn’t have that “gotcha” power.

  6. Yowww. I’ve always loved that smell, but then I’ve never had to rake a whole tree full of leaves…
    I’ve been catching up on your posts over the last couple of days, B, and you’ve kept me in stitches. Last night I was laughing my head off over “do this today and your pork will thank you.”
    You should put yourself in a vitamin jar and sell yourself as Stress Relief.

  7. I agree with Mama. The California leaves are FREE.
    Besides. Morton & Bassett?? They’re supposed to be the big-deal local gourmet spice company, and they’re pulling this cheap shit?
    Creepy E might not have known what to look for, but the shape of the California laurel is narrow and elongated, and the color is less deep green and less shiny than real Mediterranean laurel, so everybody: keep an eye on that.
    That said, I’d still like to ‘speriment with some California leaves; just gotta go hiking and find some.

  8. Hey Cookie,
    C.E. knows, but it’s one of those things you’re dealing with rushing through the store attempting to make sure you’re getting it all. You figure you’re paying a premium from a good local company, surely it’s the right stuff. And yet? No.
    Oddly enough, he did notice that the 3 remaining jars had varying amounts in them. You bet it’s done by weight, but the leaves are mostly the same size and shape. Maybe someone is stealing them when you’re not looking.

  9. Biggs, Darlin’, California Bay leaves grow on trees local to our immediate region, so no need to be interferred with by a middleman. Check out the Novato Reservoir hiking trail for starters.
    But, you raised a very good argument and anyone calling themselves a “chef” has been put on notice that there is a real difference in the Med style bay leaf and the CA local.
    My Lithuanian grandmother used only Med leaves. she never heard of the California ones. And, I don’t even know if the CA leaves get to the East coast. Maybe they do and those silly enough to try them will indeed get a big headache if they use the same ratio as the Med leaf recipe calls for.
    There are a lot of CA bay leaf trees up here in Sonoma! C’mon up and check ’em out! Rake ’em up. Haul ’em in!

  10. Howdy Biggles. I definately understand the fuss over the price and the mis-advertisement by M&B. My own grandmother used only our local bay leaves (as a self-respecting, frugal mom trying to feed her family might). I’ve been using them for years (currently I harvest mine from a bonzai bay tree that popped up in one of my flower pots a few years ago when I lived in Lafayette) and only recently tried the real deal when I discovered that my in laws have a Grecian Laurel growing at their home. I am currently out of Laurus nobilis leaves, but in the next month or so I will be getting some more and would gladly share. I live in Oakland, frequent the Berkeley Farmer’s market, and drive by Richmond weekly so If you are interested in procuring some for yourself too, just drop me a line. Free.

  11. I’m so jaded by their shenanigans that I now just assume that the bay leaves are from Cali., unless otherwise stated. I saw 4 different companies selling the things at the store the other day, and only one said specifically, “Turkish.”

  12. That company could actually get in trouble. labeling something incorrectly is a crime by those who enforce truth in advertising. Especially when the container is labeled with a machine in a factory… not by hand, like at the farmer’s market (where I’ve seen people sell regular lemons and call them Meyer) or in homemeade jam…
    might be fun to call the better business bureau.
    and if you love bay leaves as much as I, there’s a great cologne called Bay Rum which should actually have the very leaf in the jar!

  13. All of a sudden I wonder what I have…I assumed The Food Mill used the Mediteranean, but you know what happens when you assume? Yep, you get California Bay leaves.