Celery, From Seed to Root

by Jane Wangersky | March 27th, 2015 | Cooking Basics

celery bunches (400x400)After writing about celery for the past couple of weeks, it’s occurred to me that I need to remember there’s more to this vegetable than the stalks — even though they’re what most of us picture when we think of celery. So, after a few more notes about celery stalks and how to use them, we’ll look at the other parts of the plant.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which I think is a lot more user-friendly than it sounds, has put out a fact sheet on celery which you can see here. Probably its most useful information for the average grocery shopper is this: “Contrary to popular belief, light green stalks taste better than those that are dark green.” It seems too much sunlight turns celery tough and strong-flavored. The fact sheet also says celery isn’t picked until the stalks are 10 inches tall. It wasn’t always like this; the celery we usually see now, Pascal, was originally called Pascal Giant. These days, its size has become the average.

What about those other parts of the plant? Celery, like its lookalike fennel, is considered a vegetable but produces seeds that are used a spice. With a stronger flavor than the stalks, they’re a quick way to put a touch of celery in food, especially salad dressing. The Spice House has information on using it here.  As they say, ground celery seed is an alternative if the texture of the whole seed is a problem. But some find the ground form too bitter.

Celeriac is a variety of celery grown mainly for its roots. It’s also called knob celery, which will give you an idea what the roots look like, or turnip-rooted celery, which tells you how the roots are used. But, unlike many root vegetables, it can be eaten raw, according to Wikipedia. It tastes similar to the stalks of other celeries. Celeriac keeps for about six to eight months. The shoots are also edible.

A few final points: Celery was used for medicine long before it was used as food, but there isn’t much modern research showing its effectiveness. It may help with pain and insomnia, and strangely enough celery extract may repel mosquitoes, according to Web MD. The site also warns that it may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to “certain other plants and spices including wild carrot, mugwort, birch, and dandelion. This has been called the “celery-carrot-mugwort-spice syndrome.”

Hope you’ve learned something.

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