Bay leaves have been used for flavor since the time of ancient Greece. And if something was a tradition at that point in history, then it very likely has its origins in prehistory. As many people have commented from many different disciplines, most of human history is in prehistory, and bay leaves go back a very long time.
This means that, among other things, bay leaves have some of the most well-documented and detailed accounts on how to dry them out and store them, including methods utilizing modern refrigeration.
The best way to dry bay leaves is air-drying them. This method takes time and space, but it is highly reliable and will result in your leaves being perfectly undamaged. Be warned though that in order to dry them completely and perfectly, it will take up to two weeks.
Air Drying Your Bay Leaves
Start by laying out a few paper towels over a large baking sheet. It does not have to be a huge sheet, just make sure it is big enough to accommodate all of the bay leaves so they cannot touch.
Next, spread your bay leaves onto your paper towels. Do not layer the leaves on top of each other. Just let them have their own space to ensure that they dry evenly. If you have a lot of bay leaves, use another baking sheet. Avoid mixing bay leaves with other herbs because they tend to have different drying times.
Place the baking sheet in a well-ventilated room that is warm and dry room. Do not use the refrigerator; though the refrigerator is airtight and dry, the bay leaves need heat to live. Do your best to keep leaves from being exposed to direct sunlight because it will cause the leaves to wilt and brown.
Even indirect sunlight can cause damage to the leaves. This is because now that they are off the plant, the leaves will be using their own biomass as fuel for photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis will begin no matter what as long as they receive sunlight, so keep them in the dark to the best of your ability.
This is where the big-time sinks come in. Check on the leaves after 1 week and flip them over. Flipping the leaves will allow each one to dry evenly and at the same pace. Let them dry for 1 more week.
Take note of whether there is any remaining moisture left in the leaves. All it takes is a touch to confirm this. Try to be as gentle as you can as not to damage the leaves. If they are still dark green or soft, they may need another three to four days or one more full week to dry.
If some of the leaves are already dry, remove them and store them in an airtight container. Much of nature is chaotic, and it is highly probable that some leaves will dry faster than others, so do not be alarmed if you have one or two outliers who are uniquely dry or uniquely moist.
Strip the leaves away from their stems and store them in an airtight container, either a plastic bag or a Tupperware container. At this point, you can stack them on top of each other without much worry, as they have no more moisture to share and are light enough that they do not run the risk of crushing each other.
Stored properly, your newly dried bay leaves will last for up to 1 year.
Can A Hair Dryer Be Used To Speed Up The Process?
No, definitely not. There are technological ways to dry bay leaves faster, but even they end up taking multiple days. The issue with a hairdryer, in particular, is that it requires a human hand to operate it. You could, technically, use the hairdryer if you were willing to hold it in place for hours a day over several days.
But barring that, it is an impractical solution to the problem.
Added to that, there is a chemical reason why bay leaves take so long to dry out. Bay leaves are delicious, but they are also fragile. They take a while to dry out because the heat at which they dry is rather low and results in water leaving the leaves at a very slow rate.
If You Raise The Temperature, Do The Leaves Dry Faster?
One might reasonably make this assumption, as it holds true in many other situations involving chemistry. And indeed, it is technically true for bay leaves as well. The problem is that at certain temperatures, drying out is not all the leaves will end up doing.
Turn the heat up too much and while the moisture will, indeed, leave the bay leaves, it will also leave the leaves so fast that the leaves will end up damaged as a result. Rather than the chemicals separating out slowly, their bonds will immediately break, destroying the nutritional elements of the bay leaves.
This will also ruin the texture and flavor of the bay leaves as other, non-water chemicals are separated out by this heat as well. In the end you will have dried your bay leaves, but also reduced them to flavorless ash.
Do Dried Bay Leaves Taste Good?
Thankfully, yes. After all the trouble, paper towels, baking sheets, and ruined leaves you will have to go through to learn, then perfect this method of drying the leaves, your bay leaves will be delicious and long lasting. Use them liberally in salads, burgers, and anything else you might want to try them on.
The great thing about dried bay leaves is that for all their fragility at the beginning of the process, they are almost indestructible after they are dried out. This is because of the way the molecules of the leaves organize themselves after drying out. By that point, all the nutrients remain, while the living chemicals are gone.
The lack of living chemicals means there is nothing left to kill the nutrients. They are all left to you. So, enjoy!