Get on top of your GARNISH game!

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This is a post for all food bloggers who a) don’t have an assistant to prepare little bags of chopped herbs for you each week b) don’t want to do emergency store runs just to get parsley and c) get sick of using parsley all the time!

Garnishing Tips for Food Bloggers - including essential stand by garnishes you can have on hand at all times!

There’s been a few weeks in a row of blog growth posts so today I want to pull back and do something more light hearted. And next week I’m going to be back with a pretty powerful post about how you can earn as much – if not more – for sponsored posts as the “power bloggers” with just a fraction of their traffic (~10 – 15%). I bet that piqued your interest! :-) If you haven’t already, you better sign up to the FBC Mail List so you don’t miss it!

Korean-Wings_680pxA few weeks ago, I asked FBC Facebook Group members what their photography challenges were so I could make sure that I specifically covered off those areas in my book. Here’s the thread here, in case you are interested – it’s not too late to add something, but you need to be quick because I’m pretty close to finishing my book! (Note: You need to be a member of the group to read the thread – join here!)

One of the topics that came up was garnishes. Yes, I cover it in my book, but nowhere near as much as I have to say about garnishes! Here’s the question that was asked by a member:

“The top 5 (or 10 or 15 or however many!) best garnishes to always keep on hand. I ALWAYS forget those! And I’m kicking myself because I’m getting ready to photograph a creamy pasta without any green garnish”

Sound familiar?

When I started out, there were numerous occasions when I had to make an emergency run to the grocery store because I was convinced that the whole world would come to an end if I didn’t sprinkle my pasta with parsley. After all, one of the most common styling tips you read is: garnish, garnish, garnish!

What I didn’t always read was tips for how to get organised and also to get creative. I don’t know about you, but I get sick of using the obvious garnishes – parsley and other herbs!

So here are my top tips for getting on top of your garnish game! :-)

Garnished with frozen parsley I always keep on hand for emergencies. Can you tell? PS I also always keep frozen parmesan on hand!

Garnished with frozen parsley I always keep on hand for emergencies. Can you tell? PS I also always keep frozen parmesan on hand!


Sprinkled lightly with dried parsley. Can you tell?

Sprinkled lightly with dried parsley. Can you tell?

1. Store bought dried parsley – This is my #1 tip. It is super handy for emergency situations, and I bet you can’t pick which of my recipes I’ve used it for! It’s pretty green and you’d have to look really closely at photos to realise it’s not fresh! Choose a brand with the largest pieces (some brands chop it so finely, it can look like green dust).

Tip: Dial up the green slider when editing just a teeny tiny bit to make it seem greener!

2. Frozen curly leaf parsley (and other herbs) – This is something I use for many photos! 😉 Chop up curly leaf parsley and freeze it in small ziplock bags. It stays nice and green! Then sprinkle from frozen onto your food.

Why curly leaf parsley rather than flat leaf? Well, I find flat leaf parsley tends to stick together, making it impossible to sprinkle straight from the freezer but you can’t defrost either because it becomes wet i.e. falls in clumps on the food.

This works for other herbs like rosemary, thyme and other herbs where they won’t freeze into hard clumps.

3. Ingredients in the recipe – One of my favourite garnishes is using ingredients in the recipe itself. I know it sounds weird to say that! But it’s more than about pulling out bits of the food onto the surface to ensure you can see every key ingredient. It’s about keeping aside some of the actual ingredients and sprinkling them on at the end to create colour, freshness and interest on the surface by using them as garnish.

So for example, rather than stirring all the sun dried tomatoes through the creamy sauce in the Chicken photo below, I reserved some and sprinkled it over the chicken as garnish for the photo.



I kept some corn and peas aside to use as garnish for this soup.

This works particularly well with: peas, corn, red onion and other ingredients that are colourful. Especially with peas because they tend to go brown when cooked, so just blanch them (I just put them in a small bowl with boiling water) and use those as garnish!

4. Get a “disposable” herb pot plant – I don’t know about you, but here in Sydney you can buy small herb pot plants in plastic pots at supermarkets for a couple of dollars. They last a helluva lot longer than bunches of herbs so you could get one specifically for garnishes only.

With Directional Lighting - Version 2

I use scallions for almost all Asian or Asian influenced foods.

5. Scallions / shallots – The fridge shelf life of shallots is far longer than most herbs. I always ensure I have shallots in my fridge. Pretty much anything I make that is even vaguely Asian, or heck, even if there’s just soy sauce in the recipe, I feel like I shallots make a suitable garnish!

6. Sesame seeds – You’ll be surprised how handy sesame seeds are to have on hand! Similar to shallots, they definitely suit anything with an Asian influence. Or actual real Asian food!

7. Salsa – I know this might sound odd, but salsa can make a great garnish! An example is below. I was stumped for what to use as garnish for the Baked Ricotta. Herbs wouldn’t cut it, it would look too sparse and obvious sprinkled on the surface. I needed something more interesting and to add a serious pop of colour into an otherwise very “yellow” and brown set.

Chopped up tomatoes was the answer! It added height and colour. It had absolutely nothing to do with the recipe, though I did end up incorporating it otherwise it was too staged.

Don’t just think tomatoes! Corn, avocado, red onion, herbs, cucumbers – you’re only limited by your imagination!

Baked-Ricotta-Both_680px_1 SQ

Using colourful side dishes like salsa can add interest height and colour to a food.

8. Lemons and limes – I always, always have a stash of both in my house (yes, even when limes are $10/lb like they are in winter in Australia!). I am obsessed with both because I use them for dressings, plus I love South East Asian and Mexican food which frequently use lime.

So wedges of limes and lemons feature frequently in both my photos and recipes. But don’t restrict yourself to just wedges! Slices are fabulous too! I love using caramelised slices of lemons and lime (and oranges!) in my photos. Just pan fry them in a bit of oil until golden.


Caramelised citrus fruit are a great way to add style to a food.

9. Flakes of salt – Especially for close up shots, flakes of salt make a fab garnish! Don’t you think? (I could SO go one ten of these wings right now…)

Crispy Baked Wings-close-up_680px_square

Flakes of salt are a great garnish for close up shots!

FINAL Chili Lime Salmon Chili Dust_PS

Chilis freeze really well for dusting or slicing!

10. Frozen red chilis – Seriously. Chilis freeze SO WELL. And you can either grate them (from frozen) to garnish your food with chili dust OR slice them.

Red chilis are gold to have on hand. They add a fabulous pop of colour and gives hints about the recipe!


To complete this post, I thought I had better include a list of the more more common garnishes too!

  1. Parsley and every other herb imaginable, leaves or chopped
  2. Drizzle of sauce / dressing (get a squeeze bottle to make zig zags!)
  3. Dollop of sauce accompanying the dish (eg. yoghurt, sour cream)
  4. Grated parmesan
  5. Garnishes that are an actual part of the recipe, like pangrattato. As opposed to parsley, which is definitely NOT an essential garnish for a recipe!
  6.  Icing sugar (confectionary sugar), strawberries, fruit/ingredients in a recipe for desserts and cakes


So there you have it! My “real persons” tips to make your garnish life easier and to avoid emergency store runs mid shoot. I’m sure there are plenty more ideas and I’d love to hear what your standby garnishes are!

If you enjoyed reading this, share it with your friends!

No more emergency store runs mid shoot! Get on top of your food garnish game! #foodphotography #FBC Click To Tweet

Thanks for reading!  – Nagi x

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The Food Photography Book by Nagi from RecipeTin Eats


  1. says

    In a pinch I have been known to use chopped celery leafs. Bunches of celery are usually sold with some of the leaves on them. And when chopped look very similar to flat leaf parsley. Also carrot tops…although I rarely buy carrots with the tops on them…fantastic article. Thanks for the great ideas!

  2. says

    Hi Nagi, I am really learning a lot from you. Thank you so much! Btw, I chop up green onion tails in a pinch and the diced tomatoes are perfect!

  3. Danielle says

    As I’m reading this, I got really excited because I recognized your one pot Greek chicken with lemon rice. I pinned it and made it earlier this summer and it was a hit. I bought a brand new jar of marjoram special for this recipe. I’m not used to cooking with it and was looking forward to being adventurous trying it out. Guess what I forgot? The marjoram!!! The meal was still a hit and I’m looking forward to trying it out again….this time with the marjoram.

    • Nagi says

      Hi Danielle! I’m so glad you enjoyed my one pot Greek chicken and rice! It is a personal favourite of mine for sure! :)

    • Nagi says

      It’s a LIFESAVER!! especially for poor sods like me who can’t grow herbs and herbs are super expensive here in Sydney!

  4. says

    I’ve used the “save out a few peas and corn kernels” tip before. I hate that some ingredients looks so “blah” after cooking! I’ll be using a few of these suggestions for sure!

    (altho my husband is already nervous about getting food from the fridge “am I allowed to eat this?” I can only imagine his reaction when I start freezing garnish supplies!!)

  5. says

    Love all your tips, Nagi.. like everyone else has said, chili tip was brilliant. Oh! Why didn’t I read this last week. During the last week’s visit to the supermarket, I wanted to buy the red chili and was left wondering what I would do with the rest after garnishing for a recipe. I am heading straight to the red chili next time I visit the store.

  6. says

    Great post as always … love the chili idea, too. I’ve actually got a chili plant on my window sill heaving with red chilis so I need to get them picked and in that freezer!
    I use a lot of basil, scallions and … erm … parsley …for garnishes, but love all your other ideas, too!

    • Nagi says

      Not at all! I only see the flaws :) But thank you for your kind words. And I’m so glad you found the tips useful! :) N x

  7. Kathryn says

    I’m so guilty of the emergency grocery store run (and with two small children and a full-time job, that’s a major problem) – this is great! I love the idea of using on-hand pantry and freezer ingredients so you’re always ready to go. I’m a newbie and don’t yet have the hang of how to plan out and style the photo shoot in advance (versus just finding the time to actually make and photograph the food) so these tricks will be a lifesaver to help me take things to the next level. Thanks so much for all your generosity and advice – it’s so very appreciated!

  8. says

    Great idea for the parsley. I am often hesitant to buy a bunch of parsley thinking it would be waste if I just need a few. Next time, I’ll buy a bunch and freeze the leftovers. I also freeze fresh Thai chilis. Thai chilis are so cheap here in Thailand and often they would sell at minimum of 100 grams per pack. That’s a lot for my use, and I used to have spoiled chilis. Now I freeze the chilis and they last for more than a month, and still as fresh.

    • Nagi says

      I usually drop it in the notes because I’ve had the question from readers!! I don’t think it’s a biggie though :)

    • Nagi says

      Sue, I respectfully disagree! I think your styling is classic and clean which suits the overall look of your blog :) Besides, Korean food? Easy. You’d always have your garnishes on hand! I’m jealous! N x

    • Nagi says

      Thanks Kevin! One day is pretty close :) Your pics are so vibrant, I really love how bold they are, they suit your style of food! :)

  9. says

    Nagi Girl, you are AWESOME! You have just given me tons of ideas. Can you imagine, I have most of these garnishes in the the freezer but would run out to purchase more? You just saved me some dinero. Thank you, thank you!

  10. Marlene says

    Can I say I love you, Nagi? Not only are your food blog posts tops, you share so much with your fellow bloggers. As a new blogger getting ready to launch, I find your tips very practical and easy to follow, as well as inspiring. Once again, my thanks for a terrific and useful post.

    • Nagi says

      Aw, thanks so much Marlene! You’re so sweet :) I’m glad you found it useful. And how exciting that you are launching soon! Please do let me know when you’ve launched – and make sure you’re in our Facebook group so we can have a launch celebration! :)

  11. says

    Love that tip about frozen chilis! I have a bunch from the Vietnamese market, where they’re super cheap but you have to buy a big thing of them. Usually I dry them, but I’m going to try freezing this time.

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