Skip to main content

How are Italian parsley and curly parsley different? Here’s what we know

Italian parsley, also known as flat-leaf parsley, is one of the main varieties of the herb that’s used in cooking. The other is curly parsley (which has ruffled leaves). Both have been used over the years for seasoning and garnishing an array of dishes from different cuisines. But how alike are they? At one point in time, parsley was akin to fine dining; now, it’s in almost every household, sitting nicely in an herb rack. Choosing whether to use Italian parsley or curly parsley can be a bit confusing when you’re growing and cooking at home, but ultimately boils down to the type of dish you’ll be making.

The two are easily confused — why?

The main confusion over which is which has to do with the name. They’re both varieties of parsley, so to the untrained eye it doesn’t seem like they would taste different or have different uses when you’re trying to pick one out in the store. Parsley is parsley, right? But even though these two are in the same family (cousins, in fact), they can’t always be used interchangeably.

They’ve got some differences

Surprisingly, even though the two are commonly confused for each other, the biggest difference is their appearance. Italian parsley sports flatter leaves (similar to cilantro) that are more of a dull green in color. Comparatively, curly parsley has ruffled leaves and a brighter, more vibrant color. The coloring is what makes curly parsley more of a go-to for garnishes. It isn’t intended to be eaten, but it enhances the appearance of a dish whereas Italian parsley is often used to enhance the flavor.

Do they taste the same?

Not quite. The reason why Italian parsley is reached for as a seasoning rather than a garnish is that it has a more robust flavor than it’s curly-leafed cousin. Italian parsley has a smoother texture, which adds to its palatability. Curly parsley is said to have little to no flavor, mostly used for its aroma and bright colors to bring life to a dish; however, depending on the growing conditions, age of the plant, and kind of soil used, the flavor can be more apparent. Even so, curly parsley will never be a one-to-one substitution for Italian parsley — and vice versa.

The best uses for Italian parsley

Italian parsley is — you guessed it — used to flavor a lot of Italian dishes like pastas. It’s used alongside other seasonings like basil and oregano and mixed into sauces to help enhance the flavor. Part of the lean toward Italian parsley is the smooth flavor (no one wants to be eating pasta and suddenly get a mouthful of a rough herb).

When it comes to Italian parsley versus curly parsley, Italian parsley wins in the flavor department and as such is a go-to for both professional chefs and home cooks. Italian parsley can be used as a garnish if you want the decoration of the dish to be more edible, but keep in mind that it will increase the flavor. If you plan to use Italian parsley to beautify your meal, you may need to balance out how much you add in the recipe.

Where curly parsley shines

Curly parsley is among the garnishes that are added to meals without the intent of being eaten. The leaves are simply there to make it appear more appetizing and impressive. A staple of French cuisine, you’ll most notably see a call for this kind of parsley when making a French dish. Flavor-wise, Italian parsley wouldn’t pair as well here.

Young curly parsley leaves have a muted flavor while older leaves start to taste more bitter; however, that’s commonplace among many herbs and not unique to this specific kind. When adding curly parsley as a garnish, you’ll either want full sprigs or to keep it nice and fine so that the color shines while the texture isn’t as apparent in the mouth.

A bundle of curly parsley

Can you substitute one for the other?

This question doesn’t have a definitive answer. Because curly parsley can taste different depending on the growing conditions it’s in, sometimes it will have a more apparent flavor than others. There’s a consensus that Italian parsley can be substituted for curly parsley when being used as a garnish; however, you’ll want to make sure the robust flavor pairs well with the other seasonings in the recipe.

Because of the muted taste that curly parsley is known for, many chefs don’t see the validity in substituting this ruffled-leaf variety and would prefer to go out and buy Italian parsley. The ruffled texture — combined with the fact that if you do substitute it as a seasoning, you’ll want to use more of it — make curly parsley less pleasant to have in your mouth.

That said, if you’re a home cook in a pinch, you could always give it a try. Make sure to taste your dish as you go along (and probably taste the parsley beforehand so you know what flavor you’re working with) so that you don’t over- or under-season. Otherwise, it would be best to go out and buy some Italian parsley or forgo the herb altogether until your next shopping trip.

Editors' Recommendations

Kiera Baron
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kiera Baron is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding digital artist, based in Upstate NY. She is currently one…
Wondering how much light orchids need? We have your answers
Here's how to decide where to place your orchid in your home
Pink orchid blooms

Orchids are unique flowering houseplants that are highly sought after by indoor gardeners for their delicate blooms and arching stems. There are roughly 30,000 different species of orchids, but each one can be characterized by the three-petal blooms that grow from the branches; however, they can be a bit tricky to get to bloom. Some people only experience the foliage, and although orchids water well; plant owners may not remember how important proper lighting is to get flowers to grow. Orchid light needs are a bit bigger than most, so let’s get into it.

How much light does an orchid need indoors?
Orchids thrive on strong lighting indoors, which means you need to find a space that isn’t dark for a majority of the day. Because orchids value such strong light levels, it’s important to make sure they have a consistent amount each day when grown indoors. You want to pick a location that has the same amount of day and night, day in and day out, aside from the gradual change of the seasons and the unpredictable cloudy days.
What kind of light does an orchid require?
So what kind of light is strong light? It’s bright, full sunlight; however, orchids don’t like a lot of heat, so you want to avoid areas that get direct afternoon sun (think all the windows in your home that shine the brightest come lunchtime — those are bad for orchids). At a minimum, you want your orchid to get 5 to 6 hours of sunlight per day, but you may still want to avoid directly placing your orchid on windowsills so that the intense light can’t burn the leaves.
Do orchids do well in low light?
Unfortunately, no. An orchid kept in low lighting won’t thrive, and you may start to see the leaves darken and wilt over time because they aren’t receiving enough sun to keep the plant’s energy levels up. If your orchid is in a lower light environment, it’s best to either move it to where it can receive more sunlight or buy a grow light to keep it under so that it can get what it needs.

Read more
Grow these herbs for Halloween to make your celebration even spookier
Spook up your Halloween with these easy-to-grow herbs
A bundle of fresh mugwort

Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is a night that means many things to many people. For kids and their parents, it’s a night to dress up in fun or scary costumes, walk around town, and get candy. For others, it means also dressing up in costumes and going out to parties with friends. It can mean haunted houses and scary movie marathons.

For the superstitious, it’s a night to be wary of and to be careful not to cause disturbances between that which we see and that which we feel. And for the powers that be — the witches, the warlocks, and the gardeners — it’s a time to head out to our Halloween herb gardens and celebrate the bountiful harvest that awaits us.

Read more
Wondering how much water a plant needs? Here’s what you need to know
Tips on how much water to give your plants and when
Person watering a plant box

It's common practice for plant owners to water their plants on a schedule, doing it at the same time every day or every week. There's nothing wrong with following a plant watering schedule, but a set schedule may not provide the best care for your specific plants. After all, plants vary widely in what they need to grow, so not all your plants will need the same amount of water at the same time. In fact, the same plant might need different amounts of water from week to week!

Like people, every plant is unique and has its own needs. This is the first thing to keep in mind when it comes to watering your plants. Let’s go over how you can set up a watering schedule while still meeting the needs of each leafy (or spiky!) friend.

Read more