Parsley is one of those herbs that has a very distinctive taste.
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Parsley or garden parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a species of flowering plant native to the central and eastern Mediterranean region, however, it’s now widely found elsewhere in Europe.
The herb can be traced back to the 3rd century BC and is believed to have originally been grown in Sardinia, Italy. Today, it is widely used in European, Middle Eastern, and American cuisine, and the curly leaf variety is often used as a garnish.
Flat-leaf parsley is easier to cultivate and can be described as having a slightly stronger flavor, whereas root parsley is very common in central, eastern, and southern European cuisines, where it is often cooked in soups, stews, and casseroles.
Parsley has a mild peppery flavor that is crisp and fresh.
The herb is often used in both its fresh and dried forms, to garnish and add flavor to a variety of dishes, from omelets to soups, sauces to pasta, and even scrambled eggs.
But what if a recipe calls for parsley and you don’t have any to hand? What can you replace it with?
Thankfully, there are a few different options that work well, and in this article, we’ll be sharing these with you.
Different types of parsley
What if you have one type of parsley but a recipe specifies another variety?
Curly-leaf parsley (curly parsley) is mainly used for garnishing, however, it can still be used as a substitute for flat-leaf parsley.
However, flat-leaf parsley, which is also known as “Italian parsley” has a stronger flavor.
It can still be used as a garnish or in recipes that call for other kinds of parsley, just bear in mind the stronger taste and adjust accordingly.
First of all, if your dish requires fresh parsley, you can substitute this with dried parsley.
Just remember to factor in the stronger taste, as one teaspoon of dried parsley is equivalent to one tablespoon of fresh parsley.
Alternatively, if your dish requires dried parsley and you don’t have any, you can try a similar dried herb such as dried basil, sage, or marjoram.
If your dish calls for parsley as a garnish, it means the herb is not actually a contribution to the dish but is rather a complementary flavor. In this instance, you may skip the garnish, or use an alternative herb, like basil or cilantro.
If parsley is integral to your dish, opt for a herb that has a similar flavor, for example, chives, arugula, or endives.
You might be used to chopping off the leaves of your celery sticks and tossing them in the trash, but these leaves are actually edible, and what’s more, they’re intensely flavored.
These leaves pack a punch. The dark green outer leaves have the strongest flavor and tend to have a tougher, more fibrous texture.
For this reason, these are best cooked until tender in soups and stews or blended for sauces and purees.
The inner leaves which are lighter in color are far more tender and have a more delicate flavor. They still have a pretty strong flavor, but because of their softer texture, they can be eaten raw and used in salads or as a garnish.
Chervil leaves look like carrot greens and have a delicate, curly texture. They look similar to parsley, but usually have a lighter color and frillier leaves than flat-leaf parsley.
Some chervil leaves will have blossoms, and these should be avoided because it’s a sign that the herb has turned bitter.
Chervil is more commonly used in recipes rather than as a garnish, and it’s usually added at the last minute to preserve the delicate flavor.
It works well in omelets and is usually used in a classic Béarnaise sauce. It’s also included in the “fines herbes” blend, which also includes parsley, tarragon, and chives - a blend used commonly in French cooking to season poultry, egg dishes, and salads.
Unlike Parsley, Chervil leaves can be a little harder to find in the supermarket, but if you do have some, they’re an ideal substitute.
Cilantro is a commonly used herb, particularly in Mexican and Indian cuisine. In the U.K. and some other places, cilantro is known as “coriander.”
The leaves are similar in appearance to flat-leaf parsley, growing on long, tender stems. Corriander spice is made from the seeds of the plant, and this has a completely different taste to the leaves. In some dishes, the roots of the plant are also used.
When it comes to parsley substitutes, we’re mainly concerned with cilantro leaves. Fresh cilantro is known for its strong, citrusy taste which is also slightly peppery.
It’s a “love it or hate it” flavor, and to a certain percentage of the population, it has a soapy taste due to the natural aldehyde chemical in the leaves.
Fresh cilantro is best used when a dish calls for a fresh garnish, however, bear in mind that it’s stronger and more pungent than parsley, so use the herb sparingly, and also consider that not everyone appreciates the taste.
Basil is a fragrant, aromatic herb and can be used fresh, in the form of its glossy, round leaves, or dried and used in recipes.
It’s most commonly used and associated with Italian cuisine, although it’s thought to be native to India. The great thing about this herb is that it’s widely available, and many people grow it as a kitchen herb.
If you’re looking for a parsley substitute for an Italian dish, basil is definitely the one to go for. It has a unique, yet not overpowering taste that can complement homemade sauces, meat, fish, or salads.
The dried version of basil has a milder taste, making it ideal for adding to dishes during the cooking process. If you're looking for a substitute for parsley, in many cases any fresh herb will do as a parsley substitute. I'm partial to bay leaf and flat leaf parsley. Dried thyme is also interesting to use. You can also substitute dried herbs for chopped fresh parsley. The chive is an option too.
Make sure you know the difference between parsley vs cilantro.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Substitute Thyme for Parsley?
Parsley is often recommended as a substitute for thyme, so there’s no reason why the switch shouldn’t work the other way around.
Thyme typically works better as a substitute for parsley after it has been dried because the leaves are very different in texture. However, flavor-wise, the sharpness and woody aftertaste of thyme makes a decent replacement for parsley in a pinch.
It’s important to note that the flavor won’t be identical because thyme is much more floral to taste than parsley, so we wouldn’t recommend it in recipes that rely on the pepperiness of parsley to carry the flavor.
Despite the difference in taste, you might wish to substitute parsley for thyme in the name of nutritional value. Thyme is higher in both manganese and iron than parsley. It also has more Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium.
Can Coriander be Used Instead of Parsley?
Coriander is actually commonly known as ‘Chinese Parsley,’ so it’s no wonder that this herb comes up as a possible substitute for parsley.
While coriander and parsley certainly aren’t the same, they are similar enough that you could use one in place of the other with good results.
Coriander has a naturally citrus-like flavor that mimics the slight bitterness of parsley reasonably well. Like parsley, coriander also tastes slightly earthy or woody.
Admittedly, coriander has a stronger aftertaste than parsley, and many people actually have a strong aversion to the taste, comparing it to soap. This is definitely a herb you’ll want to try on its own first to make sure you like it before you go sprinkling it all over your cooking, but it’s one of the best herbs out there for parsley substitution in terms of flavor.
Can I Use Mixed Herbs Instead of Parsley?
If you don’t have any parsley on hand, you could always use that jar of mixed herbs in the back of your pantry!
All mixed herb blends are slightly different, so you’ll want to read the label to check which particular herbs are included in the mix.
However, usually, mixed herb blends consist of basil, marjoram, and oregano, with some also containing thyme, sage, and rosemary.
Basil, in particular, has a fresh, almost mint-like taste that works well as a less bitter substitute for parsley. However, the taste of basil is less subtle than that of parsley, so we’d only recommend using it as a substitute in dishes where other powerful flavors are present.
The combination of basil and oregano, as featured in the majority of mixed herb blends, works especially well in Italian cuisine, so if you were planning to add parsley to risotto, a pasta dish, or pizza, a mixed herb blend could work wonders!
Are Parsley and Basil the Same?
No, parsley and basil are not the same herbs, but they do have some similar properties, which is why basil works so well as a parsley substitute.
For a start, parsley and basil have completely different origins. Basil is native to India, while parsley originates from Europe and Western Asia.
As you might expect, given their differing origins, these two herbs are also members of different plant species. The botanical name for parsley is Petroselinum crispum. Petroselinum is a genus of the Apiaceae family.
Basil, meanwhile, is called Ocimum basilicum in scientific terms and is a member of the Lamiaceae family.
While both families are flowering plants known for their aromatic properties, Lamiaceae are generally classified as types of mint, while Apiaceae are known as Umbellifers.
Therefore, while parsley and basil are similar in some respects, the existing system of plant classification shows that they are not the same.
Moreover, the difference between parsley and basil is quite marked when it comes to taste. While they can be substituted for one another with decent results, depending on the type of dish, parsley is much earthier and more bitter than basil.