Parsley is more than just a pretty plate garnish. One of the most beloved and basic herbs, you should always have a bunch on hand to dress up roasted chicken, make salads more robust, and make easy weeknight sauces that give vegetables some pizazz.
What Is Parsley? What Does It Taste Like?
Parsley is a plant from the Apiaceae family of flowers, herbs, and vegetables that includes carrots, fennel, and parsnips. Widely used as an herb and flavoring, parsley has dark green leaves with some varieties having flat tender leaves and others having deeply curled, frilly leaves.
Parsley has a fresh, grassy scent and a mild peppery flavor and can have a bit of bitter taste.
Parsley Vs. Cilantro
Many of us have made the mistake of grabbing a bunch of parsley when we meant to grab cilantro and vice versa; It is an easy error to make with two herbs that look so similar. They both have dark green leaves and stems as well as a similar leaf pattern.
Cilantro leaves are thinner, more delicate, with rounded serrations at their edge. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to pinch off a leaf from the bunch and give it a good sniff—cilantro has a lemony scent that some people would call soapy that matches its flavor.
Varieties of Parsley
- Flat Leaf or Italian Parsley: This is what most of us think of as parsley with dark green, flat leaves. While it can grow quite tall in the garden, most of us see it with short stems in bunches at the store. Flat-leaf parsley is robust in both flavor and shelf life. Properly stored, it can last up to 10 days in the fridge.
- Curly Leaf Parsley: You’re most likely to see curly parsley as a garnish alongside orange wedges on a breakfast plate or buffet. It isn’t as beloved as flat-leaf parsley because some folks find it less flavorful and more bitter. Plus, the curly leaves are harder to wrangle for chopping. Curly parsley can be substituted for flat leaf in almost any recipe.
Dried Vs. Fresh Parsley
Like chives, parsley is one of the few herbs whose flavors aren’t concentrated by drying, meaning dried parsley isn’t nearly as flavorful as fresh. Tablespoon for tablespoon, dried parsley is also much more expensive than fresh. You’re much better off using fresh parsley when dried is called for and not the other way around.
How to Buy Parsley
Fresh parsley is available in grocery stores year-round. You’ll find it near the salad greens and other fresh herbs in the produce department, sold in loose bunches, plastic bags, or clamshells.
Dried parsley isn’t always readily available in grocery stores, though you can sometimes find it in the spice aisle. Dried parsley is also available online from spice retailers.
Substitutes for Fresh Parsley
Chervil, parsley’s milder, more tender cousin, is the very best substitute for parsley. Arugula is a close second as it has the same bright peppery flavor and bitter bite as parsley despite being a salad green and not an herb.
In a pinch, you can bring in another herb to substitute for parsley altogether, though it will change the dish’s flavor slightly. Cilantro, basil, and oregano are all easy swaps for parsley.
How to Prep and Cook Parsley
Store parsley in the fridge lightly wrapped in paper towels in a plastic bag as moisture makes herbs wilt quickly. Alternatively, place the bunch in a small glass of water so that the stems are submerged. Loosely tent the leaves with a plastic bag and store on a shelf in the fridge. Rinse parsley just before using.
You can add whole leaves and stems to mixed salads. The stems are ideal for adding to soups, stews, and stocks during cooking. The fresh leaves can be used in many recipes. They hold up well to rough chopping, puréeing, and even roasting. Or use it as a garnish, added at the end of cooking: try adding the chopped leaves to stir-fry or at the end of roasted vegetables.
Recipes That Use Parsley
Parsley is that little extra something that brightens up a dish or sauce—like a squeeze of lemon juice, its bitterness can balance the acidity and heat of many dishes. Here are a few ways to cook with parsley:
- Toss roasted carrots with finely chopped parsley and lemon zest just before serving
- Tuck roughly chopped parsley under the skin of chicken before roasting
- Add chopped parsley to salad dressing or toss into potato salad
- Add a big handful to vegetable soup or beef stew
- Mix with softened butter to make herb butter and spread on garlic knots, rolls, and more
Use parsley in these delicious recipes:
- Green Goddess Mac and Cheese
- Walnut Parsley Pesto
- Chimichurri Sauce
- Green Mashed Potatoes