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A bolognese-type sauce recipe I usually do uses ground beef, canned tomatoes, onions, carrots, chilli, garlic and bay leaf. The bay leaf gets cooked with the rest for a while and the sauce tastes wrong if I forget to put it in.

Now my question is, does the bay leaf do anything specific, like sugar counters the acid from tomatoes, or is it purely that the taste becomes unfamiliar and thus feels incorrect?

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    Bay Leaves add a subtle flavor to the sauce... Tomato sauce isn't the only sauce (or dish) that you'll use a Bay Leaf in. – SnakeDoc Sep 9 '15 at 16:07
  • On long list of experiments to do: season a sauce with nothing but bay leaves and six-basic-tastes stuff, in order to understand what it really does. Probably getting around to that in a few years :) – rackandboneman Jan 21 '16 at 10:21
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It doesn't do anything, it's your second suggestion.

The feeling of "right/wrong" and "like/dislike" is highly correlated with familiarity. This is proven not only by psychometry, but even physiologically, with fMRI scans. People like most whatever they are familiar with, up to the point that unfamiliar things seem wrong. This applies not only to bay leaves, but also to all other tastes (or taste combinations) and many other areas of life, even beyond sensory perception.

You can teach yourself to like bay-leaf-less sauce too, by just eating it frequently enough that it becomes familiar. But I don't see any advantages in doing so. Just cook with bay leaf and enjoy it.

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I've never used bay leaves for a tomato sauce so I'm not sure but, for example, basil reduces the acidity of the tomato.

It is possible that bay leaves have a similar effect.

  • That's kinda like what I said about sugar then. Maybe. I don't know. Or maybe it's just about the taste, as rumtscho said. – simbabque Sep 9 '15 at 15:45
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    What you mean when you say "the sauce tastes wrong"? You made me curious... I'll have to try tomatoes and bay leaves. – algiogia Sep 9 '15 at 15:49

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