While flat leaf and Italian parsley sound like names for two varieties of parsley, they actually two names for the same one. There are only two main varieties of parsley — one variety commonly known as flat leaf (AKA Italian) parsley and the other variety known as curly leaf parsley. These are the only two varieties of parsley that you are likely to find anywhere. In the produce section of your grocery store, you may find another herb — cilantro — that is sometimes called Chinese parsley but cilantro is not actually a parsley variety. The apparent distinction between flat leaf and Italian parsley can be confusing if you are not particularly familiar with culinary herbs. In order to understand flat leaf parsley and Italian parsley, consider the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does flat leaf parsley differ from Italian parsley?
Flat leaf and Italian parsley differ in name only. The Italian part of the name comes from the fact that flat leaf parsley also originated in Italy. The name is important in that it was most widely used at the point when Italian food came into its own in America. That point was in the 1970s when American fine dining was dominated by French food. When Italian food became fashionable, its ingredients were brought into the spotlight as well. This included Italian parsley, which had a different appearance and taste when compared to the curly leaf parsley that garnished French plates. Only relatively recently has the name flat leaf parsley become widely used to differentiate this variety from the curly leaf variety.
The result is that these days, the name that is used for this variety of parsley — flat leaf or Italian — is dependent on where it is sold or the recipe that you are using. You might see flat leaf parsley referred to as Italian parsley in an Italian dish or as flat leaf in a recipe that is not ethnic.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Since they are they same herb, flat leaf and Italian parsley work equally well in all applications. If you are following a recipe for an Italian dish that specifies Italian parsley but your grocery store has it labeled as flat leaf parsley, feel free to use it in the dish. The same goes if a recipe has it listed as flat leaf but you see only Italian parsley in the store.
When should you use flat leaf parsley and when should you use Italian parsley?
Because there is no difference between flat leaf and Italian parsley, you can use them in the same dishes even when a recipe specifies one name or the other. Flat leaf/ Italian parsley is generally regarded as the more flavorful type of parsley. In comparison, curly leaf parsley is used mostly for its appearance since it makes an attractive garnish. Flat leaf parsley is what is recommended dishes where the herb’s flavor profile is important to the dish.
In recent years, serious cooks have also begun to approach garnishes as a functional part of the dish. Garnishes should play a role beyond merely enhancing the appearance. Because flat leaf parsley is effective for flavor while still adding a splash of green to the plate, it has become the more popular option for garnishing as well.