I recently saw a recipe that called for Turkish Bay Leaves. Is this any different than the kind I would find in a standard spice bottle labeled "Bay Leaves", or is this a form of exotic marketing? Are there even different types of Bay Leaves?
Are there even different types of Bay Leaves?
There is the California Bay Laurel Umbellularia californica.
Turkish Bay is Laurus nobilis
We have an California Bay Laurel (AKA Oregon Myrtle) growing in our yard. While looking the same and smelling like normal store bought bay leafs like from Spice Island, it is 10 times more pungent. I used it once and that was the last time.
According to The Spice House:
The flavor of these Turkish bay leaves is far milder and more complex than that of domestic bay; it adds a subtly sweet astringency to dishes. Only one or two are needed to enhance a whole roast, pot of soup or stew.
So there are two plants which are called "bay leaves"; the Turkish Bay Laurel (Laurus Nobilis) and the California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica), as other answers have noted. What's "normal" honestly depends on where you live and what kind of recipe you're making.
European recipes are going to expect bay leaves to be Turkish, because that's the tree that originated bay leaves as a spice in Europe. Mexican recipes, and ones from the American West, are going to expect California Bay. For any other region, it's kind of random.
If you buy dried "bay leaves", what you get is going to depend on sourcing; you're best reading the label. The two species are largely interchangeable in most recipes, which makes life easier, with one exception: if you specifically need fresh bay leaves, go Turkish. California bay leaves are less flavorful when fresh, and have a waxy texture.
Figured I'd check the site of the brand I use. Turns out they are Turkish:
The bay tree is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor. The bay or laurel tree grows well in the subtropics and is cultivated today as a spice in the Far East as well as the Canary Islands, France, Belgium, Mexico, Central America and Turkey (where McCormick's bay leaves are grown).