Curly and Italian parsley? What’s the difference?

​If you’ve taken a close look at the fresh herb section of your grocery store, you may have noticed two different types of parsley in the produce cooler: curly parsley and Italian (flat leaf) parsley. Given that recipes generally call for “fresh parsley” without specifying a type, is there a difference between the two?

In restaurant kitchens, Italian parsley is pretty much the standard. How much so? According to one of our chef instructors, if you phone a restaurant supplier and ask for two pounds of parsley, they’ll ship Italian parsley by default. While it’s a bit harder to find than curly parsley, it’s easy to wash and easy to chop on a cutting board, especially when cutting in a chiffonade style. This ease of use is part of the reason for its popularity in restaurants.

In home kitchens, curly parsley is king. You may know curly parsley best from its role as a garnish on countless diner breakfast platters, where it holds court next to a half-slice of orange. On the plus side, it’s widely available and it has a lovely fresh flavour. On the other hand, it’s a bit of a pain to wash thoroughly, and chopping something that springy isn’t always easy. The taste is strong with a very “dark green” flavour. Compared to Italian parsley, it’s tougher, heartier and grows readily in a backyard garden.

Either type is great for adding an extra layer of flavour in a wide variety of dishes. You can add whole parsley leaves into a salad, for instance, or add finely chopped parsley to finish a soup, pasta or stir-fry. It adds a bright, clean flavour and extra colour.

While both parsleys have their own unique flavour, most recipes that call for “parsley” can use either type. If your recipe calls for a specific type of parsley, you’re best to stick with the recommendation. While some substitution is possible, the texture and appearance will change along with the flavour. In some recipes – typically those where a small quantity of parsley is used – these changes don’t matter as much as in recipes where parsley is a key component.

Also note: If you’re looking for Italian parsley at the grocery store, make sure you don’t accidentally grab cilantro, which is often right next to it in the cooler. Remember that Italian parsley has poky leaves, like on a maple tree, whereas cilantro has rounded leaves, like clover. They are completely different things, and substituting one for the other will yield wildly different results.