In recent years, increasing attention has been paid in exploring the role of direct plant defence, through the production of allelochemicals, on the performance of parasitoid wasps and their hosts. However, few studies have determined if parasitoids can detect differences in plant quality and thus preferentially attack hosts on which their progeny develop most successfully. In this study we examined the development and preference of two endoparasitoids, Diadegmasemiclausum and Cotesia glomerata, developing in larvae of their respective hosts, Plutella xylostella and Pieris brassicae. In turn, these were reared on different wild populations of black mustard Brassica nigra originating in the Netherlands and Sicily (Italy), as well as single cultivated strains of B. nigra and brown mustard, B. juncea. Chemical analyses of foliar glucosinolates and volatile emissions by P. xylostella-damaged plants revealed large differences between B. nigra and B. juncea plants, with smaller differences among the B. nigra populations. The four mustard populations differentially affected development time and body mass of the herbivores and parasitoids. Contrasts among the means revealed significant differences mainly between B. nigra and B. juncea. Both parasitoids, however, preferred to alight on plants in which their progeny developed most successfully. In behavioural bioassays, D. semiclausum did not discriminate among the B. nigra populations and preferred to alight on B. juncea, which was the best plant population for parasitoid development. By contrast, C. glomerata females exhibited the lowest preference for Italian B. nigra populations, on which adult parasitoid size was the smallest. These results reveal that parasitoids can detect even small differences in plant quality presumably through their volatile blends and that plant preference and offspring performance in the two species are ‘optimally synchronized’.