Friday, January 22, 2016

Tej Patta - A Much Mistaken Case of Identity

Tej Patta leaves
I have had a lot of years cooking Indian foods now, and in most every recipe, conspicuous by its absence, was bay leaf. A couple of years ago, I heard a friend say she put bay leaf in her Garam Masala. I sputtered a bit and then asked why she used bay leaf in Garam Masala? "Because the recipe said so," she said. All I could figure was that it was not a true Indian recipe. Things do tend to creep into a recipe when in the hands of someone not of the culture. Granted, I am not of the culture either, but I try to stay as authentic to the flavors as possible, going to lengths to search out the proper spices.

So imagine my surprise when not too long ago, I heard about "Indian Bay Leaf". I found that this is not a bay leaf as we know it at all, but something that looks sort of similar, and has been called bay leaf or even Indian bay leaf, when if fact it has a closer relation to cinnamon. Wikipedia has this to say:

"Cinnamomum tamala, Indian bay leaf, also known as tejpat, tejapatta, Malabar leaf, Indian bark, Indian cassia, or malabathrum, is a tree within the Lauraceae family which is native to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. It can grow up to 20 m (66 ft) tall."

Tej Patta - Cinnamomum tamala / C. tejpata / C. malabathrum

Called "Tej Patta" (among other spellings) in Hindi, "Tamalapatra" in Sanskrit, and called by other names in other languages or dialects, these leaves come from a tree that is in the Lauraceae family (as with Bay Laurel leaves), but comes instead from a variety of cassia tree. Tej Patta leaves bear more resemblance in flavor to cinnamon or cloves, quite dissimilar to the piney, resinous flavor of bay laurel leaves.

Bay Laurel and Tej Patta Leaves - comparison
Tej Patta grows mainly in the northeast of India, extending into the slopes of the Himalayas, Nepal and Burma. The trees are not generally under commercial cultivation, so quality is not highly regulated. Not all leaves sold have the same strength of flavor.  
Its usage in Indian cooking is mainly confined to the Moghul cooking style of the imperial courts of Delhi and Agra, in foods such as Biryani and Korma. In these regions it is used almost daily and is well known. If an Indian recipe calls for "bay leaf", it is automatically known this refers to Tej Patta, or its misleading name: "Indian Bay Leaf." 

Tej Patta is characterized by its three lengthwise veins instead of the bay laurel leaf's many branched veins off of one central vein. Note these differences in the photo at left. The size of the leaves in the packet I bought runs from just slightly larger than a mid sized bay laurel leaf upwards to about 6 or more inches in length.

If an Indian recipe calls for "bay leaf" or "Indian Bay Leaf", do not substitute a Bay Laurel leaf. Instead add just a little more cinnamon, or perhaps one clove or one allspice berry instead. The leaves are not so strongly flavored, and it is suggested that they be broken before adding to a dish to help increase potency of flavor. If in doubt, leave it out. A bay laurel leaf will lend the wrong flavors to the dish. Most things are available online these days, and true to form, I found them on

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.