Parsley – Curly or Flat Leaf (Italian Parsley)

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There are few days in the year where I find myself without fresh parsley in the house, primarily because years ago I read in my little old book on nutritional value of foods that it is abundant with vitamin C, exceptionally more than any other food.  According to wikipedia’s nutritional breakdown 50 grms of raw parsley gives you your daily dose of recommended vitamin C.  It’s also a good source of iron, vitamin K and the group of  B vitamins, a superfood if you like.

The secondary but equally important reason I use parsley where appropriate is because it’s not one of the bullies in the herb family, you know it’s there but it doesn’t have to be centre stage unless you make it so.  I grew up with parsley and bayleaves used in so many of our traditional dishes, to me Bolinhos de Bacalhau, salt cod fishcakes are not properly made without parsley nor the other famous salt cod fritter; Pataniscas.

Which Tastes Stronger – Flat or Curly Parsley?

As far as I can tell they are both equal in terms of nutritional value, I haven’t read otherwise but I would use them differently.  My ears always prick-up when I hear chefs on TV claiming flat leaf parsley is stronger in taste than curly because that’s not my experience,  I find the opposite.

In order to post I tried to see if I could find evidence if indeed one parsley variety is stronger than the other.  Starting with Harold McGee, he states that when flat leaf parsley is younger it is stronger in taste than when it matures, and the opposite is true of curly, that it starts out being milder but is stronger in maturity.

I would certainly agree the tender shoots of flat leaf parsley are very strong because when my parents use to grow some while they lived in the UK the plant during the winter season struggled to grow but the few young green tender leaves it shot out my mother would use in her Bolinhos the Bacalhau and a tiny amount would go a long way, far stronger in taste than anything you could buy.

I’ve also had the experience over the years of buying very large flat leaf parsley that once chopped I could hardly detect a parsley taste.  I’m not sure if these were normal flat leaf parsley left to grow large or a different variety altogether, it taught me to buy only flat leaf that has medium size leaves.

According to different sources flat leaf has more essential oils than curly parsley, the apiol, which may the reason why flat leaf has a reputation amongst chefs for being stronger tasting.

As I searched a little more in this wonderful site of herbs and spices by Gernot Kartzer it states that curly contains larger amounts of myristicin.  I had to look up what myristicin was and here’s the definition: a crystalline phenolic ether C 11 H 12 O 3 that has a strong odor and occurs in various essential oils (as nutmeg oil).

Since I’m no scientist, the numbers and letters mean nothing to me but I read the part it says myristicin has a strong odor, and since curly parsley carries more of this compound maybe it explains why I think it’s stronger than flat leaf when mature.

Different Uses for Flat and Curly Parsley.

I can use both for the same thing, but there is a couple of small differences for me, you need to be more careful washing curly parsley because it holds on to grit really well and I find its texture coarser than flat which I don’t like when eating it raw.

I cook with both and use large amounts of flat leaf for stirring into all sorts of dishes at the last minute but if I had to choose just one for cooking I would pick curly because I find its flavour more robust and withstands cooking better than flat.  I would always use curly to make the classic white parsley sauce.