Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

INFO: Parsley 101

Parsley is an herb, meaning it comes from the green part of the plant. The parts of parsley that we eat are the leaves, the root, and rarely, the fruit. Parsley comes from southeast Europe (probably east Mediterranean) and western Asia. Parsley became popular in more northern regions in the middle ages, when it was grown in monasteries and Imperial gardens. The name "parsley" comes from the Greek word meaning "rock celery." It is uncertain why. Parsley is found in the Odyssey, on the northern shore of Ogygia, where Odysseus encounters the nymph Calypso. "The meadows were full of violet and wild parsley ..."

Parsley is indispensible to European cooking. It has a distinctive flavor, which is strongest in the root, accompanied by generic fresh green notes that complement many foods. When parsley is chopped, these green notes become prominent and the distinctiveness fades.

Parsley comes in curly leaf and flat leaf varieties. The flat leaves have a strong parsley note when young and develop a woody flavor later on. Curly leaves start out mild and woody and develop the parsley flavor as they mature. Curly leaves crisp faster when fried.

Badly handled parsley can develop psoralens, which are toxic chemicals that damage DNA and cause blistering skin infections. These can be found in parsley that has been stressed by near freezing temperatures, intense light, or infection by mold. Psoralens can be absorbed through the skin or ingested with the parsley, raw or cooked. They will lie dormant in skin cells until exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, and then will bind to and damage DNA and cell proteins. This is why parsley should be purchased as fresh as possible and used quickly.


"On Food and Cooking," Harold McGee
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