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Daphna – a Bay Leaf Nymph

Everybody saw a bay leaf (or laurel) in his dish. But not everybody knows that a bay leaf in Georgian is “Daphne”. It was a nymph in Ancient Greece who met serious personal problems with Apollo. This story was colorfully described by a Roman poet Ovid in “Metamorphoses” poem: Apollo god, once meeting Erot, young god of love, armed with arch and arrows, mocked at his small height.

The latter decided to revenge and hit Apollo with arrow of love, but Daphne, on the contrary, with arrow of antipathy killing love and provoking disgust. Daphne, having been tired of arduous Apollo love, asked her father Peneus and mother Earth for the help. The parents didn’t find anything better how to turn the unfortunate daughter into a laurel bush. Since then Apollo, mourning the beloved, began to carry an evergreen laurels wreath on his head.

Let’s remark that “Daphna” means laurel not only in Georgian, but in Greek language as well. Therefore we could be brave enough to suppose that Colchis or Kolkhida (modern Black sea coast of Georgia) is a place of bay leaf historical origin. May be, when a famous Jason together with other Argonauts had stolen a Golden Fleece from King Aeetes of Colchis, they did the same with Daphna. Subsequently the bay leaf became popular in ancient Greece, later in Rome and conquered all Mediterranean. Of course, such an idea isn’t supported by any solid proofs, but it doesn’t matter – the same story with any myth or legend.

During ancient world times a bay leaf became a symbol of both a continuous grief and a sign of a victory. The heads of prominent poets and musicians had been crowned with laureal wreaths. You could see at ancient Greek frescos how Nika, the goddess of victory, assigned them to the heads of heroes and winners of sports and arts competitions. In modern times it became tradition worldwide. A “Laureatus” word (winner or topped with laurel) had originated from the Latin word “Laurus” (laurel).

Nowadays the dried bay leaf became one of the most popular spice and food condiment of the world to be used in house cookery and conservation, as well as in the food and chemical industries. It also became an important ingredient of traditional medicine, cosmetology and aromatherapy. At the USSR times Georgia provided the whole Soviet Union with the spice, producing 7-8 thousand tons of the dried bay leaf a year. But in 90-s due to the USSR collapse the local production came to zero with cultural plantations in the Western Georgia to become completely deserted. But simultaneously numerous wild-growing thickets of bay leaf bushes had covered many foothill regions of the Western Georgia.

Last decade exports of the Colchis (West Georgian) bay leaf to the traditional (Post-Soviet) markets began to be recovered gradually. Now in average it makes up from 1500 to 2000 tons a year. It’s a very high quality, practically organic spice. On the one hand, it is an environmentally friendly product as local laurels – generally wild-growing plant which isn’t exposed to technogenic impact of the environment. Even if the laurels grow on the country site, all the same come to nobody to mind to spend money for its handling by fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. On the other hand, the area of its growth and climatic conditions of Colchis give to this spice excellent organoleptic and consumer properties: especially sharp spicy aroma, a strong pleasant smell and higher (in comparison with other growing regions) content of acids, vitamins, micro and the macrocells useful to a human body.

But, unfortunately, until recently the bay leaf exports from Western Georgia failed to use its USP (Unique Selling Points) at international markets. On the one hand, most of the harvested bay leaf was bought up by buyers from Turkey as unprocessed raw materials – in the form of dried broken bushes with long branches, with a lot of waste, with a big number of broken, spoiled and over-dried leaves. It was difficult or impossible for local peasants to organize a highly technological process of bay leaf drying, sorting, calibration and pressing. As a result a natural Colchis bay leaf had been sold at scanty prices to be taken away to Turkey for necessary processing and further exports to Europe priced a dozen times higher comparing to initial purchase prices. Of course, this Colchis bay leaf got a Turkish certificate of origin.

On the other hand, few Georgian processors had no necessary multi-stage equipment. Therefore bay leaf export from Georgia was almost entirely a mass product of the B-grade category (according to the Soviet GOST standards) at correspondingly low prices and only to the unpretentious Post-Soviet markets.

Well, one cannot, however, tap the market with the support of only Greek myths… Anyway the situation had changed for the better for the last one-two years. New producers appeared in the Colchis region, first of all, “Laurus” in Senaki and our “Kolkhida Trade” company in Khobi. So, we got into production, and over the span of two years we created an integrated, full-circle production as a combination of traditional Georgian and modern technologies based on up-to-date equipment that we purchased in Turkey (as the saying goes, “one good turn deserves another”). The fully integrated production provided the manufacturing of bay leaves in five quality categories and, most importantly, without any loss of unique consumer qualities of this condiment. Simultaneously we were supporting a specially created Internet site and were actively involved in marketing our product, mostly at the markets in the post-Soviet realm. We could add Kazakhstan to Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, we created a network of commercial representatives in some new markets, including, among others, Germany, Norway and China. As a result, we have a high chance to become in 2016 the largest exporter of the Georgian bay leaf. We could not, however, enter the European markets yet—which we were anticipating.

So, a new export product with USP has been created, but it’s yet a long way to enter European or Asian markets. Georgian exporters need active, as well as highly professional marketing. First of all, it’s necessary to make Colchis bay leaf different from other countries spice, to prove its unique consumer properties and deliver this information to a future pretentious buyer. With such a challenge any producer and/or exporter will certainly need the GI (geographical indication) system. It offers two marketing instruments to simultaneously protect and promote unique quality dried bay leaf: PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) – see for more details “Branding Strategies in Georgia” article (CBW #168, dated November 7, 2016, p.11). But to register these protection signs it’s necessary, first of all, to found a Georgian (or Colchis) Association of Bay Leaf Producers and Exporters. According to the EU and Georgia legislation only a collective team of producers, cooperative and/or association could pretend for a registration of any product with unique geographical origin. It’s high time for advanced Georgian companies to forget about internal competition for a while and unite their efforts to make Colchis Daphne recognizable at any international market.

In conclusion I’d like to mention one more point. As it was above-mentioned, Colchis Daphne raw materials base is limited by wild-growing and peasant sites’ bushes (for a few small exceptions). There is a danger that if/when high-quality Colchis bay leaf enters world markets, the expansion of modern technological capacities will push the demand for raw materials. Under their limited supply it will result in purchase prices rise and a corresponding diminishing of Colchis Daphne competitive advantages. To escape such a danger it’s worth considering to attract investments to restore cultural plantations of the “noble laurel”, but with no use of fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides.

Article by Dr. Andrei Maximov

Maximov&Partners LLC; [email protected] www.maximov.ge