Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Parsley — Garnish or Ingredient?

Have you ever seen that for recipes that call for parsley, some specify “flat-leaf” or “Italian” while others do not specify what kind? What are these types and does it really matter which you use? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Although your local grocery store will probably only carry one or two kinds of parsley, there are four main varieties.


  • This is the most common variety and is sometimes known as “common parsley”. It is easily recognizable by its curly leaves.
  • It has a milder flavor than flat-leaf and it is somewhat on the grassy side. Older plants will yield leaves that are more bitter.
  • Although it can be used in cooking, it is more often used as a garnish.


  • This is also known as “Italian parsley” and has leaves that are flat and serrated.
  • Although curly is known as “common parsley”, the flat-leaf variety is what is normally called for in recipes as it has a bolder and more aromatic flavor than the curly kind.


  • This perennial variety is native to Asia and has leaves that are more pointed than other kinds.
  • The entire plant is edible. The leaves are normally used as a seasoning, the roots are eaten like a vegetable and the sprouts are often put on salads.
  • It does have a more bitter flavor than other varieties.


  • Other names for this variety include “root parsley” and “Dutch rooted parsley”.
  • It looks similar to flat-leaf parsley but the leaves are not eaten due to the strong flavor.
  • It has long, thick roots that look like a parsnip and is said to taste like a combination of celery and carrot. It is normally not eaten raw but used in soups and stews.

Uses for parsley

  • Recipes will often call for using parsley as a pretty garnish but it is also added to dishes for flavor.
  • It can be added to salads of mixed greens and/or herbs.
  • It is usually a component of a bouquet garni, which is a bundle of herbs used to flavor soups/stews. A typical mixture contains parsley, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf. It is tied together before adding to the dish so you can easily remove it at the end.
  • Some dishes have parsley as one of the main ingredients.
    • Chimichurri – an Argentinian sauce served with grilled steak and composed of fresh herbs (including parsley) along with garlic, vinegar, olive oil and seasonings.
    • Tabbouleh – a Lebanese salad made with bulgur, parsley, tomatoes and a dressing.
    • Gremolata – a condiment of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. In Italy, it is traditionally served with Osso Bucco.
    • Parsley Pesto – rather than making a classic pesto with basil and pine nuts, you can mix it up with other herbs, including parsley.

Parsley is a very versatile herb that is great to have on hand. If you have a green thumb, it is also easy to grow. We probably mostly use it as a garnish or secondary ingredient, but don’t forget it can also star in many dishes.