Celery 101 – The Basics
The celery we are most familiar with, that we commonly see in just about any grocery store, is green to pale-green in color, with long, firm stalks, and leafy ends. The variety is Pascal celery. Interestingly, there are many other types of celery that are usually smaller than Pascal celery. The colors can vary from white to deep gold, and even red. Celery is a botanical cousin to carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, cilantro, parsnip, anise, caraway, chervil, and cumin.
Many different types of celery are commonly grown around the world and are often referred to as “wild celery.” Pascal celery was cultivated as far back as 1000 B.C in parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. It was used as a medicinal plant in ancient Egypt. There is also evidence that ancient Greek athletes were awarded celery leaves to commemorate a win.
Around the world, celery is often served as a major vegetable in a meal, rather than an addition to salads, or a flavoring agent in soups and stews, like it is commonly used in America. Also, the large root ball, celery root, is often prized as a food in other parts of the world, over the stalks that are so popular in the United States.
Today, the United States produces over 1 billion pounds of celery each year. The average American adult eats about 6 pounds of celery annually. The United States exports about 200 million pounds of celery annually to Canada. Despite that, a substantial amount of celery consumed in the United States is imported from Mexico.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Celery is an excellent source of Vitamin K and molybdenum. It also contains a lot of folate, potassium, fiber, manganese, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B2, copper, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and Vitamin A (carotenoids).
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Support. Celery is VERY rich in phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds include Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and manganese. But the antioxidant support provided by celery goes far beyond that. There are at least a dozen other compounds found in celery that demonstrate such benefits. Animal studies have shown that celery extracts have lowered the risk of oxidative damage to body fats and blood vessel walls. They have also been shown to prevent inflammatory reactions in the digestive tract and blood vessels. The extracts were even found to help protect the digestive tract and liver from damage due to acrylamides, which are harmful compounds that can form in foods during the frying process.
Further research on celery juice and extracts has demonstrated that celery has powerful anti-inflammatory effects by decreasing levels of specific factors that promote inflammation. This helps to keep those factors in check, preventing unwanted inflammation.
Digestive Tract Support. Celery contains specific pectin-based fibers that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits. Animal studies have found that extracts of these compounds in celery appear to improve the integrity of the stomach lining, lowering the risk of stomach ulcers, and providing better control of stomach secretions.
Cardiovascular Support. Many cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis, are promoted by oxidative stress and inflammation in the bloodstream. Because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties already found in celery, researchers are taking interest in celery for its potential cardiovascular health benefits.
Cancer Prevention. Because compounds in celery have been found to have such strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, researchers are taking note of celery for its possible anti-cancer benefits. Human research in this area has yet to be conducted, but there has been speculation that celery may help to prevent stomach, colon, and bladder cancers.
Sodium Content. Celery contains about 35 milligrams of naturally-occurring sodium per stalk. If you are on a reduced sodium diet, your intake of celery should be monitored to help you keep track of your sodium intake.
How to Select Celery
Choose celery that looks crisp, with a clean bright green color, few blemishes, and with a tightly formed bunch. Avoid those that are limp, or with yellow or brown patches, especially in the leaves, as this indicates age.
How to Store Celery
Celery should be stored in the refrigerator. There are a number of ways to store celery to keep it crisp. But note that nothing will keep celery crisp forever. It’s full of water and the refrigerator is a very dry environment, so celery tends to wilt easily. Here are some easy ways to help minimize water loss and keep it crisp longer.
(1) When you get your celery home, simply pull the original bag upward and secure a twist tie or rubber band around the top of the bag. This will help minimize water loss, while still allowing for air flow because the original bags that celery are packed in have air holes along the length of the bag.
(2) Remove the celery from the base and wrap the stalks in aluminum foil. This method is effective in keeping celery crisp and fresh for extended periods of time.
(3) Celery may be stored in a closed container. There are long plastic containers made specifically for storing celery. They usually have a mesh insert that celery can rest on, allowing for air flow around the stalks as they are stored.
(4) Celery may also be stored in any plastic container it will fit in. The stalks may need to be removed from the base, and even cut in half so they will fit in the container, and that is fine for this purpose. It is helpful to place a paper towel or clean cloth under the celery pieces. This will soak up any excess moisture that forms in the container, while maintaining a humid environment, helping to maintain its crispness.
If your celery has become somewhat dehydrated and limp, simply sprinkle the stalks with a little water, or place them cut side down in a little water in a jar or glass. Place that in the refrigerator. They should crisp up within a couple hours or overnight. Then remove them from the glass or jar and continue to store them as usual. [If left in the water for a prolonged time, the internal cells of the celery will eventually burst from trying to absorb more water than they can hold. This will cause the stalks to collapse and be very limp.]
If possible, use your celery within one week of purchase for optimal flavor, texture and nutrient retention.
How to Prepare Fresh Celery
Remove the stalk from the base of the bunch. Wash the leaves and stalk under cool running water. Cut the stalk as desired for your recipe. If the outside of the stalk contains fibrous strings, they may be removed by making a small cut into the outside with a knife. The stringy fibers may then be peeled away and discarded.
How to Preserve Celery
If you cannot use your celery within a reasonable amount of time, it may be frozen or dehydrated for later use. However, when thawed or rehydrated, the texture will be soft. It will be suitable for being immediately added to cooked dishes, like soups, stews, stocks, sauces, and casseroles. Dehydrated celery may also be ground up and used as a seasoning. Previously frozen or dehydrated celery will not be appropriate for eating fresh, such as in salads or being stuffed for a crispy snack, since it will be soft.
Freezing Celery. Wash your celery well and shake off excess water. Cut the celery into the size pieces you will need them to be when used later. Celery may be frozen with or without being blanched first. However, blanched celery will keep longer with a better quality and flavor than celery that was not blanched.
To freeze celery without blanching it first, wash it and cut the celery stalks, as described above. The prepared pieces may simply be placed in a freezer bag and stored in the freezer. To prevent it from freezing into one big lump, it can first be spread out on a parchment paper-lined tray and placed in the freezer. When frozen, transfer the celery pieces to an air-tight freezer container or bag. Label with the date and use it within 3 months for best flavor and quality.
Unblanched, finely diced celery may also be frozen in ice cube trays. Place a measured amount of celery pieces in each cell of an ice cube tray. Fill with water, then place in the freezer. When frozen, transfer the cubes to an air-tight container. These would be suitable for adding to soups and stews or any cooked food where added liquid would be used.
To freeze celery by blanching, first prepare your celery pieces as described above. Then steam them or boil them for 1 to 2 minutes (depending on the size of the pieces). Immediately transfer your blanched celery pieces to a bowl of cold water to quickly cool them down. After they are cooled, drain them well and spread them out on a parchment paper-lined tray in the freezer. When frozen, transfer your blanched celery pieces to an air-tight freezer container or bag. Label the container with the date and use them within one year for best quality.
Dehydrating Celery. Celery may be dehydrated in a dehydrator or oven. Some resources consider blanching celery before dehydrating to be an optional step. However, celery that is dried without being blanched may turn an unappetizing tan color. Whereas celery that was blanched first will maintain its green color. The choice is yours!
To blanch celery before dehydrating, bring a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, wash the celery. Cut the celery into desired size pieces and boil them for 1 to 2 minutes (depending on the size of the pieces). Immediately transfer them to a bowl of cold water to quickly chill them down. Drain them well.
Dehydrator. To dry your celery pieces in a dehydrator, arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for time and temperature for drying your celery. Usually 135°F is the recommended temperature for dehydrating vegetables. The celery will be dry when it is very brittle, and has no sign of moisture inside when broken open. Store it in an air-tight jar away from heat and sunlight. For extended storage, it is helpful to place an oxygen absorber packet in the jar. Properly dehydrated celery will keep for many years.
Oven. Prepare the celery pieces as directed above. Set your oven at its lowest temperature. If it will not go below 150°F, the oven door will need to be left slightly open by propping a towel or wooden spoon inside the door. This will waste a lot of energy. If you plan to dehydrate a lot of food, investing in a dehydrator may be a sound investment.
If possible, arrange the prepared celery pieces in a single layer on a small screen or rack over a baking tray. This will allow for air flow as the celery dries. If you don’t have a mesh screen or rack, the celery pieces may be placed directly on a baking tray. They should be stirred occasionally as they dry so they will dry evenly and completely. The process may take 6 to 8 hours for them to dry completely. They should feel completely dry and crisp with no sign of moisture inside when broken open. When done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely. Store them in jars with tight-fitting lids or air-tight containers. Placing an oxygen absorber in the container will help to prolong the shelf-life of your dried celery. Store it away from heat and sunlight, and it should keep well for years.
Note that celery will shrink a lot as it dries. Using a very fine mesh screen or rack will help to keep the pieces from falling through during the drying process.
To rehydrate dehydrated celery. Simply add 3 parts of water to 1 part of dehydrated celery in a bowl. Allow the celery to sit for 20 minutes up to 2 hours, until fully rehydrated. The length of time will depend upon how big the pieces were before they were dried. If desired, dehydrated celery can simply be added to soups or stews without rehydration, since they will be cooked in liquid for enough time to allow the vegetables to become rehydrated. Just be sure there is enough liquid in your pot to compensate for the rehydration process.
Equivalents. When examining rehydrating charts from various resources, the equivalents vary somewhat. It may depend upon how big the celery pieces were when they were fresh. Larger pieces may yield a greater conversion rate than those that were cut very small. So, consider the following equivalents to be rough estimates, since there is a lot of variation based on the resource.
According to “Seed to Pantry School,” an online DIY food school, one tablespoon of finely chopped fresh celery is equivalent to ½ teaspoon dried. That’s a 6-fold increase in volume from dried to fresh of finely chopped celery. Note that the celery was very finely chopped.
According to Harmony House Foods, that sells dehydrated foods online, one cup of dehydrated celery yields 3-1/4 cups when hydrated. That’s a little more than a 3-fold increase in volume when rehydrated. Obviously, their celery pieces were not cut as small as those in the above conversion comparison by “Seed to Pantry School.”
According to Honeyville, that sells freeze-dried foods online, ½ cup of freeze-dried celery will yield 1 cup when rehydrated. That’s only a two-fold increase in volume. Also, USA Emergency Supply, another online seller of dehydrated foods, states that celery doubles in volume when rehydrated in cool water.
Suggestion for Rehydration Equivalents. Test a small amount of your own dehydrated celery by measuring a small amount of your dried celery. Place it in a bowl and cover it with plenty of water. Allow it to sit until the celery is completely rehydrated, then measure the celery. This will give you the conversion rate of what you have available. Then you can determine how much dried celery to add to a dish so you can follow the recipe appropriately.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Celery
* Are you looking for a simple snack that has some crunch? Try celery stalks! Dress them up by stuffing them with whatever you have that sounds good at the moment…cream cheese, any nut butter, or even cottage or ricotta cheese. Or just dip them in your favorite salad dressing.
* Make a quick salad by combining chopped celery, apples, grapes, and walnuts or pecans. Top it with your favorite dressing or a little olive oil and white-wine vinegar.
* For some crunch, add diced celery to your favorite tuna, chicken, egg, macaroni, or potato salad.
* Make an easy vegetable salad by combining diced celery, tomatoes, and sweet onion. Add a little cucumber if you have it available. Top it with your favorite vinaigrette or other salad dressing.
* Don’t discard the celery leaves. They are perfectly edible and taste like celery. Also, they contain a lot of Vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. Why not just use them along with the celery stalks? They work especially well in salads. Or, freeze them and add them later to soups, stews, sauces, or stock.
* If you’re cooking celery, research has found that most (83 to 99 percent) of the antioxidants in celery were retained when celery was steamed, even after 10 minutes. However, when celery was blanched for 3 minutes, or boiled for 10 minutes, 38 to 41 percent of the antioxidants were lost.
* To retain most of the nutrients in celery, wait to cut it up until you’re ready to use it. Studies found that nutrients in celery were lost, even when it was cut up the night before it was to be used (despite being stored in the refrigerator).
* If your celery has wilted and become soft, sprinkle some water on it and return it to the refrigerator. You may also place wilted celery stalks, cut side down, in a little water in a tall glass or jar. Place it in the refrigerator and it will crisp up quickly (in a couple hours to overnight). Once crispy, remove it from the glass and store it as usual.
* Celery leaves can be used to substitute for parsley in pretty much any dish.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Celery
Anise seeds, basil, bay leaf, caraway, celery salt, celery seeds, chervil, cloves, cumin, dill, lovage, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, salt, tarragon, thyme, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Celery
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, almond butter, bacon, beans (in general), beef, chestnuts, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, hazelnuts, lentils, nuts (in general), peanuts, peanut butter, peas, pecans, pistachios, pork, shrimp (seafood in general), snow peas, sunflower seeds, turkey, walnuts
Vegetables: Artichokes, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, chives, cucumbers, endive, fennel, garlic, greens (in general), kohlrabi, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radishes, scallions, shallots, squash (winter and summer), tomatoes, turnips, water chestnuts, watercress
Fruits: Apples, grapes, lemon, lime, oranges, pears, pineapple, raisins, strawberries
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bread crumbs, bulgur, corn, pasta, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, browned butter, cheese (esp. Blue, cheddar, cream, goat, Parmesan, Swiss), cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Capers, maple syrup, mayonnaise, mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. nut, olive, walnut), soy sauce, vinegar
Celery has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Casseroles, cocktails (i.e. Bloody Marys), crudités, curries, gratins, mirepoix (celery + carrots + onions), risotto, salads (egg, fruit, pasta, potato, vegetable), sauces, slaws, soups (i.e. celery, celery root, potato, vegetable), stews, stir-fries, stocks (i.e. vegetable), stuffed celery, stuffings
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Celery
Add celery to any of the following combinations…
Almond butter + raisins
Apples + walnuts
Carrots + onions
Cheese + fruit + nuts
Cucumbers + mustard
Garlic + tomatoes
Oranges + pecans
Parsley + tomatoes
Pistachios + yogurt
Simple Celery Soup https://www.feastingathome.com/celery-soup/#tasty-recipes-25110
28 Non-Boring Ways to Use Celery https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/non-boring-celery-recipes/
35 Recipes That Feature Celery—From Toast to Cocktails https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/celery-recipes
22 Delicious Ideas for Celery That You Will Crave All the Time https://food.allwomenstalk.com/delicious-ideas-for-celery-that-you-will-crave-all-the-time/
23 Celery Recipes That Prove There’s Much More to It Than Ants on a Log https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/celery-recipes-salad-soup-stew-gallery
Lentil and Chicken Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Escarole https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/lentil-and-chicken-soup-with-sweet-potatoes-and-escarole
Ideas for Using Celery Leaves https://triedandsupplied.com/saucydressings/what-to-do-with-celery-leaves/
Unexpectedly Tasty Celery Recipes That Are Easy to Make https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/unexpectedly-tasty-celery-recipes-that-are-easy-to-make.html/
Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Parmesan https://cookieandkate.com/celery-salad-recipe/#tasty-recipes-24740
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. (1993) So Easy to Preserve. 3rd ed. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
MacKenzie, Jennifer, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer. (2015) The Dehydrator Bible. Ontario, Canada, Toronto: Robert Rose, Inc.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.