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What Is Parsley?

Leafy green parsley is a popular garnish in cooking, but what is it exactly? Find out why this aromatic herb is an excellent ingredient – not just a garnish! – in salads, marinades, sauces, and more.

Overhead shot of a Fresh bunch of parsley.

What Is Parsley, Anyway?

Parsley is a type of flowering plant native to the Mediterranean. It’s prevalent in coastal and Moroccan cuisines, but it has become an herbaceous staple in American cooking, too. You’ll find it fresh or as a dried herb. You’ve probably seen it before, in the form of bright pops of green scattered over everything from rigatoni bolognese pasta to blackened chicken. As an herb and a garnish, parsley has a robust green flavor, making it a fresh addition to many dishes. 

You can eat it raw in salads or cooked into sauces, soups, and so much more. If you’ve been around here a while, you know that it’s one of my favorite ingredients, especially for garnish!

Is It Good for You?

Parsley has loads of health benefits in and outside of the kitchen. The leaves, seeds, and roots are all edible, and it’s considered one of the best disease-fighting plants (there’s a reason I sprinkle it over everything!). This herb is a source of many healthy nutrients, to name a few:

  • Vitamins A, C, and K – Parsley is an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamins A and C, as well as vitamin K, which supports healthy bones. Just one ½ cup offers over 500% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K!
  • Antioxidants – In addition to vitamin C, parsley contains other powerful antioxidants like flavonoids and carotenoids that help protect against cell damage and cancer.

Types of Parsley

Yes, there’s more than one kind of parsley! There are actually two main varieties that you’ll find in the produce aisle: French and Italian. They’re often used interchangeably in cooking, but there are some slight differences:

  • French Parsley: French (curly-leaf) has a softer flavor, with thick, curly leaves that are more vibrant green than flat-leaf parsley.
  • Italian Parsley: Italian (flat-leaf) has wider, flatter leaves, with a stronger flavor than French parsley. 
Chopping fresh parsley on a wooden board.

Parsley vs. Cilantro

Parsley and cilantro, also called coriander, look a lot alike. Raise your hand if you’ve ever picked up a bunch of what you thought was fresh parsley from the store, only to realize later that it’s cilantro. 🙋‍♀️ If your hand is up, you already know there’s a difference! Both are bright green, leafy herbs with long, thin stems. However, they are not the same herb. Here’s how to tell them apart:

  • Leaves. Parsley leaves are pointed, while cilantro leaves are more rounded.
  • Smell. Parsley has a fresh and mild herbal aroma. Meanwhile, cilantro has a stronger scent that’s more spicy and citrusy.
  • Flavor. Parsley’s flavor is milder and more versatile, whereas cilantro brings a citrusy punch to the recipes its used in. Some people even insist that cilantro tastes like soap.

Can I Substitute Cilantro for Parsley?

Since these herbs have very different flavors, you can’t always substitute one for the other in recipes. Cilantro is popular in Mexican, Asian, and Indian cuisines, where its citrusy taste compliments the other spices. Meanwhile, parsley is the herb of choice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. If you’re looking to substitute parsley, fresh or dried chervil, oregano, tarragon, and chives are the best choice.

Chopping parsley on a wooden board.

Chopping and Storing

Properly chopping parsley isn’t rocket science, though it does take a sharp knife and some (easy) technique. You can chop your herbs as rough or as fine as needed for whatever you’re cooking. Here’s how to chop parsley and store it:

  • Wash. First, rinse the leaves and stems under cold water, then lay them out on paper towels and gently pat them dry. You can also chuck it in the salad spinner if you have one.
  • Trim the stems. Next, line up the parsley you’ll need for your recipe. Use a sharp knife to cut the stems just below the leaves, where the stem gets thicker.
  • Chop the leaves. With the leaves separated from the stems, use the knife to chop the leaves in a quick, up-down motion.
  • Store. The best way to store parsley is in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel. It will stay fresh for a few days. Alternatively, you can chop the leaves, store them loosely in a freezer-safe container or bag, and keep them frozen for up to 1 month.
  • Save your stems! Parsley stems are great for preventing produce from browning. If you’re working with apples or another fruit or veggie that calls for lemon water to prevent browning, toss in some chopped parsley stems instead of lemons.
Parsley pesto in a white bowl with a spoon.

15 Easy Recipes with Parsley

Now that we’re schooled in the details of what makes parsley a must-have ingredient, try these easy recipes with fresh parsley that you can make tonight.

Homemade Tabbouleh Salad in a bowl

Tabbouleh Salad

When it comes to Mediterranean-inspired tabbouleh salad, fresh parsley is a must! This satisfying salad is made with bulgar wheat and filled with healthy veggies. It's a light and easy side dish that's perfect for summer.
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Parsley pesto in a white bowl with a spoon.

Parsley Pesto

Try this spin on classic homemade pesto made with fresh parsley, earthy walnuts, garlic, and parmesan. Once you've tried it, you're going to want to put it on everything!
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Spooning chimichurri sauce over sliced flank steak on a cutting board.

Churrasco Steak

Make flavorful churrasco steak seasoned with a garlicky homemade marinade and grilled until it's charred and juicy. Served with bright, zesty chimichurri made from parsley, it's a steak recipe like no other!
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three turkey burgers on a black backdrop with lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion slices arranged alongside the burgers.

Juicy Grilled Turkey Burgers

Freshly minced parsley brings bright, herbaceous flavor to these easy homemade turkey burgers! This recipe brings together a few quality ingredients, and the patties always turn out delicious and juicy.
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smashed potatoes topped with chopped parsley

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

These perfect smashed potatoes are quick to make in the air fryer, smothered in savory garlic butter with fresh parsley. Fluffy, buttery air fried potatoes make the best side to all sorts of year-round dishes.
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Six chickpea patties on a serving platter, garnished with parsley and lemon.

Chickpea Patties

These hearty and flavor-packed vegetarian patties are easy to make with canned chickpeas, green onions, garlic, spices, and green parsley. Yogurt makes these chickpea patties extra moist, and they're perfect as a main with salads and pita bread.
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Cabbage Cucumber Salad served on an oblong serving plate with a large fork and spoon placed in the center of the salad.

Cabbage Cucumber Salad

Fragrant parsley adds freshness to this easy cabbage and cucumber salad recipe. There are so many delicious textures and flavors at play here: crunchy veggies, tangy Dijon, sweet honey, and a hit of garlic. So good!
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Chicken Piccata and Rice set on a wooden table next to a dish towel

Chicken Piccata and Rice

Homemade chicken piccata is the perfect date night meal, served over a bed of fluffy and flavorful rice. You're going to love this tender chicken recipe cooked in an Italian-inspired sauce made from wine, fresh lemon, capers, and parsley.
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close up shot of a whole cooked salmon fillet set on a piece of foil and topped with lemon slices, herbs, and green onions.

Lemon Butter Grilled Salmon

This succulent salmon with lemon butter is grilled in foil until it's flaked and full of flavor. Truly the ultimate summertime grilling recipe! Fresh parsley is the cherry on top of this easy salmon dinner.
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Shrimp scampi in a skillet, with a big spoon placed inside to spoon out shrimp.

Shrimp Scampi

This homemade shrimp scampi recipe isn't complete without a bright burst of fragrant parsley stirred into the white wine sauce. It's an easy and classic seafood skillet dinner that always receives glowing reviews.
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Fresh eggplant relish in a skillet.

Caponata

You need to try this authentic caponata recipe filled with roasted eggplant, ripe tomatoes, olives, sweet pops of raisins, and aromatic parsley. It's the perfect appetizer to transport your tastebuds on a Mediterranean vacation.
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A fork piercing through an air fryer meatball served on a plate with other meatballs.

Air Fryer Meatballs

Make juicy air fryer meatballs for a quick, family-friendly dinner! This easy meatball recipe is made with savory ground beef and Italian sausage with a fresh kick of parsley, and it always turns out amazing.
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Shot of baked truffle fries garnished with chopped parsley.

Parmesan Truffle Fries

Bright, zesty parsley balances out the richness of these addictively crispy parmesan truffle fries. Made-from-scratch fries are baked to perfection and then tossed in a mouthwatering blend of herbs, truffle oil, and parmesan cheese.
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Grilled salad ingredients in an oval dish.

Grilled Vegetables with Halloumi

Parsley and halloumi take this flavor-filled grilled salad to a whole new level. I love making these easy grilled vegetables in the summer, dressed with a fresh and herby homemade dressing.
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Overhead shot of homemade baked mozzarella sticks on a tray with a bowl of marinara sauce.

Baked Mozzarella Sticks

Make crunchy and cheesy homemade mozzarella in your oven for a fun and easy appetizer. This lightened-up mozzarella sticks recipe is sprinkled with parsley and served with tangy marinara.
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Sources: Healthline.com

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