Culinary Arts

What Is the Difference Between Flat-Leaf Parsley and Curly Parsley?

Written by MasterClass

May 23, 2019 • 2 min read

Chefs around the world use parsley to add herbaceousness and color to a variety of cuisines and plates. Originating in the Mediterranean, the vitamin-C rich parsley plant is commonly used in the cuisine of Italy, Greece, and other European and Middle Eastern countries.

The two most popular types of parsley—flat-leaf and curly parsley—are entirely unique in flavor, and will have notably different effects on any dish. Depending on the flavor and visual effect a cook hopes to achieve, it’s important to know the distinction between these two common ingredients and when to let each of them shine.

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What's the Difference Between Flat-Leaf Parsley and Curly Parsley?

Although they come from the same family—the Umbelliferae, or carrot, family—Italian (or flat-leaf) parsley and curly parsley have distinct appearances and flavors. There are a couple other varieties of parsley—Hamburg and Japanese parsley—but these lesser-known cultivars are rarely used for culinary purposes.

Although the essential makeup of the flat-leaf and curly leaf varieties of parsley is relatively the same, the differences in flavor are due to the balance of the compounds menthatriene, phellandrene, myristicin, and myrcene, which are common in many leafy herbs and exist in both forms of parsley. The balance of these flavor compounds differs between flat and curly parsley, giving flat-leaf parsley a much stronger taste than its counterpart.

Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is identifiable by:

  • Broad, flat leaves
  • A bold, aromatic flavor
  • A color ranging from dark green to bright, leafy green

Curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum) is known for:

  • Thicker ruffled, “curly” leaves
  • A bright green color
  • A muted flavor reminiscent of grass, which gets more bitter with time

Cooking With Flat-Leaf Parsley

Flat-leaf parsley is a versatile herb that can be used as both a seasoning during the cooking process and as a garnish. While dried parsley can, and should, be introduced during the cooking process to give the flavors time to release into the dish, fresh chopped parsley leaves are best added at the end of cooking, as excessive heat will diminish the herb’s fresh, herbaceous flavor.

Some possible options for cooking with flat-leaf parsley include vibrant green sauces, like chimichurri and Italian gremolata; meat dishes, like wiener schnitzel; and herb-infused breads and baked goods.

Cooking With Curly Parsley

Given its extremely mild taste that can often go undetected, curly parsley is primarily used as a decorative garnish, giving dishes dish pops of color. Use curly fresh parsley to garnish brown and beige dishes, like soups, roasts, and cheese or charcuterie platters for a pleasant visual effect.

Another option for using curly parsley is to include it in a traditional French bouquet garni—a bundle of fresh herbs that are tied together and lowered into a dish during cooking. Or, use this mild herb to create a traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh with bulgur, tomatoes, green onions, lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil; the mild flavor of the parsley will work well in this healthy, subtle dish.

Is Dried Parsley Made From Flat or Curly Parsley?

Dried parsley is primarily made with the variety with a stronger flavor, flat-leaf parsley. Although some mixes can contain a combination of the two, curly parsley’s notably muted flavor doesn’t make it a suitable dried cooking herb.