You’re ready to try a new recipe out and the shopping list looks pretty straightforward. Bread crumbs, lemon, parsley…Wait, that last one is a bit ambiguous. After all, the herb section of the produce aisle boasts not one but two types of parsley. So curly parsley vs. Italian parsley: What’s the difference and which should you use? Read on for a complete guide to these two widely-available parsley varieties and then go home and cook with confidence. (Spoiler: You’ll almost always want to opt for Italian parsley.)
Curly Parsley vs. Italian Parsley: What’s the Difference (and Which One Should You Use)?
What’s the Difference Between Curly and Italian Parsley?
According to Food.com, there are more than 30 different varieties of curly parsley. That said, the only ones you’re likely to see in the store are curly and Italian parsley—the latter being the more flavorful of the two. Indeed, Italian parsley is typically favored by chefs for its more pungent herbaceous taste, which is often described as fresh, clean and slightly peppery.
Curly parsley, on the other hand, is nearly tasteless and most often used as a garnish to add color and texture, without affecting (or enhancing) the flavor profile of a dish. It’s also worth noting that, per the experts at Spiceography, curly parsley can quickly go from muted to outright bitter tasting when it’s past its prime, so you’d be wise to use it when it’s fresh or not at all.
You can easily tell the two apart, since curly parsley has a distinct ruffled appearance (see image below), whereas Italian parsley is similar in appearance to cilantro, with leaves that are straight and flat (see image above).
When Should You Use Curly Parsley vs Italian Parsley?
As previously mentioned, the primary culinary application for curly parsley is as a neutral-tasting garnish that adds aesthetic appeal to a wide range of savory dishes, but very little else. In fact, curly parsley is kind of an underperformer, at least when compared to the more robust flavor of its Italian cousin.
According to Bon Appetit’s deep dive into the rise and fall of curly parsley, the herb originally rose to popularity in the French culinary scene of the 1980s, which prized fussy (if not highly functional) accents; it has since fallen out of favor, but French recipes of yore that call for parsley are typically referring to the curly type nevertheless (i.e., to garnish a chicken breast or place delicately next to an omelet), and it can also be used to considerable effect in fried dishes, as it’s hardier than the Italian stuff and crisps up nicely during high heat cooking.
Then there’s Italian parsley, the darling of the culinary world, which is often used as a finishing touch to boost and brighten the flavor of soups, pasta dishes and more. Italian parsley can also be used in meat and seafood marinades, added raw to salads for an herbaceous touch, or used in condiments and sauces like salsa verde, chimichurri and parsley pesto. In other words, Italian parsley is by far the more versatile ingredient and widely considered to be a kitchen staple.
Can You Substitute One for the Other?
Curly parsley will not fill the shoes of Italian parsley in any recipe that calls for the latter, because it simply lacks the bright taste that Italian parsley is meant to impart. Nevertheless, you can still sprinkle curly parsley over a dish for the sole purpose of adding some green to the plate when you don’t have Italian parsley on hand. When it comes to swapping Italian parsley in for curly parsley, though, you’re a-OK—just maybe consider using a smaller amount, so as to achieve the visual appeal without skewing the flavor profile of the dish.