Parsnip and parsley root are root vegetables and biennial plants, meaning they complete their lifecycle in two years. The first year they grow leaves, stem and root. Second year they bolt, flowers and dies. Parsnip and parsley root are usually havested in their first year. Both plants become sweeter in flavour when exposed to winter frost but don’t wait to long, otherwise they are stuck in the ground until next spring, depending on your climate.
From the left, parsnip and parsley root.
Both vegetables are widely used in central and eastern Europe and commonly used in soups and stews but their sweet flavour and texture make them perfect for purees, mash and as oven roasted vegetables.
Parsnip and parsley root are related to carrot, fennel, chervil, celery, celeriac and parsley and the roots are shaped like carrots, although bigger.
The colour of the root in both parsnip and parsley root is white, off-white or light yellow. Parsnip is usually bigger than parsley root.
The foliage of parsley root is quite similar to flat-leaved parsley.
When grown in the garden, it’s quite easy to tell the difference between parsnip and parsley root. Parsley root has got the most fantastic smell of parsley. Touch the leaves and you will smell a scent almost stronger than parsley. The leaves even look like flat-leaved parsley. Unfortunately they don’t taste the way they smell, and you will be greatly disappointed if you use them as a replacement for parsley.
Parsnip has got much coarser leaves, almost like celeriac, and looks nothing like parsley root.
The leaves of parsnip are much coarser than the leaves of parsley root.
The challenge with telling the difference between the two starts when the stems are removed and you only see the root. When found in supermarkets parsnip and parsley root look almost alike but there is one distinct characteristic that will help you to know the difference.
Parsley root looks a lot like a carrot, and the stems seems to be an direct extension of the root. The parsnip, however, looks a bit different.
On a parsnip the stems seem to grow from the inside of the root, making a dent around the top. Even though the stems are removed the dent remains, making it quite easy to tell the difference.
With that said, don’t panic if you get it wrong a couple of times. Parsnip can easily replace parsley root in most recipes and vice versa.
Parsnip, of the left, have a dent around the stems. Parsley root looks much more like a carrot.