Italian parsley and curly parsley have been the quintessential garnishing herbs in Western cuisine. There was a time not too long ago when a chopped parsley garnish seemed essential for fine dining dishes. These days, most cooks agree that garnishes should do more than make your dish pretty. When it comes to the two parsleys, which you choose can have a significant impact on the flavor and visual appeal of the food that you are serving. Compare the two in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does Italian parsley differ from curly parsley?
The first difference between flat leaf parsley and curly parsley has to do with leaf-shape, as the herbs’ names indicate. Flat leaf parsley’s leaves are straight like the cilantro leaves while the leaves of curly parsley have a ruffled appearance.
Italian parsley is the variety most often used in Mediterranean cooking because of its bright, herbaceous flavor. Many cooks regard it as a seasoning herb similar to basil or oregano. In comparison, the taste of curly parsley is somewhat muted and often gets likened to that of grass. Curly parsley may also be bitter if the leaves are old. Even so, you should note that the amount of flavor you get from this parsley is variable.
Can you use Italian parsley as a substitute for curly parsley and vice versa?
Whether the two primary forms of parsley are interchangeable is a controversial question. Many cooks believe Italian parsley is the only one of the two that can do double duty as a garnish and seasoning herb. Others disagree. The difference in how many cooked perceive parsley comes from the idea that curly parsley is relatively flavorless and is only useful for improving the look of a plate.
The truth may be more nuanced as curly parsley is sometimes flavorful, but this may depend on the age of the plant and the soil in which it grew. Finely chopped Italian parsley can work in a recipe that uses curly parsley as a garnish since it can pass for finely chopped curly parsley. Its brighter flavor will usually be an asset to dishes that call for curly parsley.
If you have no choice but to use curly parsley in place of Italian parsley, you can use more of it to compensate for its relative lack of flavor. Use twice the amount of curly parsley that your recipe requires for Italian parsley. Also, note that curly parsley can offer a more enjoyable texture than Italian parsley in some dishes. It is more durable in that it can go a long time without wilting even after you chop it up.
When should you use Italian parsley and when should you use curly parsley?
Use Italian parsley for Italian dishes and for any application where you need the herb to add something to the flavor profile. Use Italian parsley when you want a garnish that adds something to the food more than just decoration.
Curly parsley works best as a garnish, so you can chop it and sprinkle it over the dish to add a splash of color. Note that curly parsley often gets associated with French dishes. When French recipes call or parsley, the authors usually mean curly parsley.