Types of parsley plants

Here’s to an herby renaissance.


It’s time to stop loving parsley for its looks alone. True, even if you’ve done nothing else to make a dish look attractive, sprinkling a smattering of finely chopped parsley over the plate can make it instantly pop. But pigeonholing it as a passive, for-color-only garnish—a sprig to be cast away to the side of the plate—feels a little fusty.

Parsley’s got personality, too—namely, a clean bright flavor and a lettuce-like crunch. So how about we start treating it like what it is: an herb.

Ubiquity is almost reason enough: Parsley is one of few herbs you can find fresh at any time of year in most supermarkets, and it usually comes in generous bundles. There are even two types: flat leaf (also called Italian parsley) and curly leaf. In a pinch, either is fine, but note the differences between them.

Flat Leaf vs. Curly Leaf Parsley

Whereas curly parsley can be less tough and thus better suited to fine-chopping, flat parsley has a robust taste that’s more ideal for flavoring. Treat it like a seasoning—baked into meatballs, chopped into starches, or kneaded into bread dough—or even as a vegetable snipped into sandwiches, deep-fried and salted as a side dish, or dressed like salad leaves and mixed with toppings like fennel, nuts and seeds or tomatoes.

Long cooking times tend to dilute leaf flavor, though, so if you’re adding fresh leaves to hot food, be sure to do it at the very end. And skip the dried version for most purposes. It tastes overly grassy and hay-like—not much like the fresh flavor at all.

Parsley Stems

Parsley stems (from either plant type) can be used as well. Since they’re sharper in flavor and less delicate than the leaves, they hold up better in long-cooked stocks, stews and braised dishes.

For easy removal after the fact, take a hint from classic French sachet d’epices: Wrap a few in cheesecloth and/or secure with twine before adding them to a liquid.

A Good Rinse

However you use parsley, be sure to wash off any sand or dirt (swish it around in a bowl of cold water, then rinse and repeat until clean) and rid the leaves of excess moisture in a salad spinner or clean towel before chopping.Otherwise, the leaves will darken and bruise, and you won’t achieve the beloved sprinkling effect.

Because, well, looks do count for something.

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Differences. We spend a lot of our time trying to sort through the differences between this thing and that thing, this person, and that person, this place and that place, etc. Its no wonder that the topics on my blog that talk about the difference between one type of produce and another similar type of produce are among the most viewed. I strive to continue to explain differences. I racked my brain trying to think of questions people often ask in produce. One I came up with is the differences between flat leaf, Italian, and curly Parsley.

Difference Between Italian and Flat Leaf Parsley
Let’s get the simple explanation out of the way first. Italian and Flat Leaf Parsley are essentially the same thing. It really depends on what store you are currently shopping in, what name would be used. Parsley is native to southern Italy, so that is where that name came from. Whatever you call it, this parsley has a flat leaf that resembles cilantro. It’s easy to mix these up if you are not paying close enough attention. I was at a grocery store yesterday and saw the two stocked right next to each other, ready to be confused. Trust me, you will know that you have cilantro instead of parsley really fast when you taste it. To not mistake the two, remember that parsley leaves are pointy and cilantro leaves are round. There should also be a tie around the bunch saying which herb you have in your possession. You might find cilantro labeled or called Chinese or Mexican parsley, although I have never seen this before myself.

Difference Between Italian/Flat Leaf Parsley and Curly Parsley
It’s much easier to distinguish curly and flat leaf parsley than flat leaf and cilantro. Curly parsley is exactly what the name says, it’s curly. Set appearance aside and these two still differ. In my opinion curly parsley has a stronger, more robust flavor. It’s flavor is more assertive. When you use flat leaf in a dish it’s there as a background flavor, usually to add some freshness to the dish (I love adding flat leaf parsley to my Moroccan Pot Roast). Curly parsley doesn’t hide, you will know that there is parsley in this dish.

Italian Parsley on top of my Moroccan inspired Pot Roast

Can I Exchange Curly Parsley for Flat Leaf in a Recipe?
This is all about taste preferences. They can be interchanged in case the store is out of one or the other. I would watch how much curly you use. Since parsley is added often at the end of cooking you can add a little a time until your tastes are satisfied. I feel like more recipes call for flat leaf, probably because it is easier to cut due to it’s flat nature.

Which Parsley Do I Buy?
I typically go for the flat leaf, especially if I am using it in a recipe for the blog. I like the look of it chopped up better on a dish than curly, although if you are going to use the whole thing, curly looks better untouched on the plate.

How Much Should Parsley Cost
Parsley normally sells for between 75 cents and 2 dollars a bunch depending on what type of store you are in (high end or discount) or whether it’s organic or not. The actual size of the bunch depends on who grew it and whatever that grower decided, so often you see differences in sizes from one trip to the store to another.

When you buy parsley, which one do you buy? I would love to hear what you think in the comment section below. Whether your like curly or flat leaf, or whether you call it flat leaf or curly, parsley is an easy way to bring that sense of freshness to a dish.

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PHOTO: Jessica Walliserby Jessica Walliser February 22, 2018

Parsley is an easy to grow herb that deserves a place on every hobby farm. It’s a popular purchase at farmer’s markets and most chefs love buying fresh-from-the-farm parsley on a weekly basis. But when it comes to deciding whether flat or curly parsley is the better choice, you have a few things to consider prior to planting.

What’s the Difference Between Flat and Curly Parsley?

Parsley is a cool-weather tolerant herb that’s a native of the Mediterranean region. It’s a biennial that produces a rosette of foliage during its first year of growth and flowers the second. In regions with a mild winter, parsley easily overwinters, but where winters are very cold, the plant does not survive. Regardless of where your farm is located, however, most growers use parsley as an annual crop since flowering causes the foliage to turn slightly bitter.

Flat and curly parsley are actually two different species of plants with many differences between them, though flavor and texture are likely to be the most important.

Curly parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Curly parsley tends to be used primarily as a garnish here in North America. The flavor is very strong, though it can also be quite bitter, depending on the variety. The texture of curly parsley makes it difficult to wash and a challenge to chop attractively, making it far more valuable to home cooks than it is to professional chefs who likely prefer flat-leaved parsley.

Flat-leaved or Italian parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum): Italian parsley has a smoother texture than curly selections, and the flavor is more intense and stronger, though it has less of a tendency to be bitter. It’s easier to wash and chop, though the stems aren’t always as sturdy as curly parsleys are.

There are many different named cultivars of flat and curled parsley, each offering its own unique flavor. Favorite curled varieties include Moss Curled and Wega. Flat-leaved favorites include Giant Italian and Italian Flat Leaf.

How to Grow Flat or Curly Parsley

Both types of parsley are fairly easy to start from seed. The seeds are notorious for talking their own sweet time germinating. Expect to wait 20-25 days to see the first seed pop from the soil. Soaking the seeds in water for twenty-four hours prior to planting can help speed germination.

Seeds should be sown indoors under grow lights, or in a heated high tunnel or greenhouse about 10 to 12 weeks before the last expected spring frost. Plants are fairly cold hardy and can be planted into the garden early in the season, shortly after you plant your peas and onion sets.

Harvesting Parsley

The most important harvesting tip for parsley, regardless of whether it’s flat or curly parsley, is to only harvest the outer leaves and let the growing point remain intact. Doing so will allow the plant to produce subsequent flushes of leaves and result in continual parsley harvests for weeks on end.

Once the parsley stems have been cut, store the leaves, cut stem down, in a glass of water on the countertop. Or, put the leaves in a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge where they’ll last for a week or more. Wash just before use.

Parsley Pollinator Partners

Parsley growers should also be aware that the plants will serve as a larval host food for the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly. It’s quite common to spy several of these unique yellow, green and black striped caterpillars feasting on the leaves of parsley plants. They damage they cause is minimal, and the resulting butterflies are certainly worth losing a few parsley leaves.

Should the plants happen to overwinter and form flowers the following growing season, you’ll find the blooms alive with pollinators and beneficial insects. As a member of the carrot family, parsley is an excellent nectar source for a broad diversity of native bees, ladybugs, lacewings and other good bugs.

When food comes garnished with a solitary sprig of curly parsley, it flags up a dish that’s retro – not in an attractively nostalgic way – and a cook who has run out of ideas, even confidence. Freshly picked curly parsley can be sweet and wonderful, but the shop-bought stuff more often than not brings more of a texture than a taste, and is usually an irritating, irrelevant and prissy presence on the plate.

Flat-leaf parsley, on the other hand, is a different ball game. Armed with a leafy bunch – think in terms of generous handfuls, not sprigs – you have a strong, clean, assertively “green”, almost grassy flavour at your disposal, one which is more versatile than any other herb’s. And that easy-on-the-eye verdant colour does wonders for the visual appeal of so many dishes.

Why is parsley good for me?

Parsley is rich in bone-strengthening vitamin K. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a number of flavonoid compounds, such as luteolin and apigenin, all of which appear to have an antioxidant effect: that is, they render harmless free radicals that would otherwise cause oxidative damage to cells. The chlorophyll and essential oils in parsley freshen the breath and are thought to have an antibacterial effect.

Where to buy and what to pay?

Supermarkets put eye-popping mark-ups on fresh herbs such as parsley and the small 25g bags are particularly bad value at £22-£32/kg. Supermarket parsley will also have been cut to fit in the plastic bag, which doesn’t help with freshness. You can buy big, statuesque bunches of robust flat-leaf parsley for much less in Asian and Middle Eastern shops, good greengrocers and markets. Guide price: between £6.50 and £10/kg.

Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, RRP £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

Parsley and potato dumplings

Based on Italian dumplings, or gnocchi, these make a delicious supper. If you have the time, a tomato sauce is the ideal accompaniment.

Serves 4
4 large floury potatoes, such as king Edward, maris piper or desiree, washed
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, picked from the thicker stalks
65g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
50g parmesan, finely grated, plus extra for serving
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp olive oil
60g butter
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Salt and black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Prick the potatoes a few times, rub with olive oil and roll in salt. Bake for about 1½ hours, or until the inside is completely soft, then leave to cool.

2 While the potatoes are cooking, bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil. Once boiling, plunge in the parsley and cook for about 3 minutes. Rinse under cold water, then squeeze out and chop roughly. Puree with a tbsp of olive oil to a bright-green paste.

3 When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and pass through a potato ricer or sieve into a large bowl.

4 Add the flour, parmesan, egg yolk, parsley and oil. Season to taste and stir until the mixture forms a dough.

5 Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. On a floured surface, divide then roll the dough into four long sausage shapes. Cut into 2cm pieces.

6 Once cut, drop the dumplings into the water. When they bob up to the surface, they’re ready.

7 Meanwhile, heat the butter and remaining spoonful of olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the dumplings. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked dumplings to the butter, then add the lemon zest and juice and season well. Serve immediately with plenty of parmesan.

Rosie Sykes is head chef of Fitzbillies (fitzbillies.com) and co-author of The Kitchen Revolution (Ebury Press, £25). To order a copy for £19.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

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