Herb and Spice of the Week – Celery

July 24, 2014 at 5:41 AM | Posted in spices and herbs | 1 Comment
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Leaf celery

Leaf celery

Celery (Apium graveolens var. dulce) is a plant variety in the family Apiaceae, commonly used as a vegetable. The plant grows to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall. The leaves are pinnate to bipinnate with rhombic leaflets 3–6 cm long and 2–4 cm broad. The flowers are creamy-white, 2–3 mm in diameter, and are produced in dense compound umbels. The seeds are broad ovoid to globose, 1.5–2 mm long and wide.

 
First attested in English in 1664, the word “celery” derives from the French céleri, in turn from Italian seleri, the plural of selero, which comes from Late Latin selinon, the latinisation of the Greek σέλινον (selinon), “parsley”. The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek se-ri-no, written in Linear B syllabic script.

 

 
In North America, commercial production of celery is dominated by the varieties called Pascal celery. Gardeners can grow a range of cultivars, many of which differ little from the wild species, mainly in having stouter leaf stems. They are ranged under two classes, white and red. The stalks grow in tight, straight, parallel bunches, and are typically marketed fresh that way, without roots and just a little green leaf remaining.

In Europe the dominant variety of celery most commonly available in trade is Celeriac (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum) grown for its hypocotyl forming a large bulb (commonly but incorrectly called celery root). The leaves are used as seasoning, and the stalks find only marginal use.

The wild form of celery is known as “smallage”. It has a furrowed stalk with wedge-shaped leaves, the whole plant having a coarse, earthy taste, and a distinctive smell. The stalks are not usually eaten (except in soups or stews in French cuisine), but the leaves may be used in salads, and its seeds are those sold as a spice. With cultivation and blanching, the stalks lose their acidic qualities and assume the mild, sweetish, aromatic taste particular to celery as a salad plant.

The plants are raised from seed, sown either in a hot bed or in the open garden according to the season of the year, and, after one or two thinning and transplanting, they are, on attaining a height of 15–20 cm, planted out in deep trenches for convenience of blanching, which is effected by earthing up to exclude light from the stems.

In the past, celery was grown as a vegetable for winter and early spring; it was perceived as a cleansing tonic, welcomed to counter the salt-sickness of a winter diet. By the 19th century, the season for celery had been extended, to last from the beginning of September to late in April.

 

 

Cross-section of a Pascal celery rib

Cross-section of a Pascal celery rib

Harvesting occurs when the average size of celery in a field is marketable; due to extremely uniform crop growth, fields are harvested only once. The petioles and leaves are removed and harvested; celery is packed by size and quality (determined by colour, shape, straightness and thickness of petiole, stalk and midrib length and absence of disease, cracks, splits, insect damage and rot). Under optimal conditions, celery can be stored for up to seven weeks between 0 to 2 °C (32 to 36 °F). Inner stalks may continue growing if kept at temperatures above 0 °C (32 °F). Freshly cut petioles of celery are prone to decay, which can be prevented or reduced through the use of sharp blades during processing, gentle handling, and proper sanitation.

In the past, restaurants used to store celery in a container of water with powdered vegetable preservative, but it was found that the sulfites in the preservative caused allergic reactions in some people. In 1986, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables intended to be eaten raw.
Celery is used around the world as a vegetable for the crisp petiole (leaf stalk). The leaves are strongly flavored and are used less often, either as a flavoring in soups and stews or as a dried herb.

In temperate countries, celery is also grown for its seeds. Actually very small fruit, these “seeds” yield a valuable volatile oil used in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries. They also contain an organic compound called apiol. Celery seeds can be used as flavouring or spice, either as whole seeds or ground and mixed with salt, as celery salt. Celery salt can also be made from an extract of the roots, or using dried leaves. Celery salt is used as a seasoning, in cocktails (notably to enhance the flavor of Bloody Mary cocktails), on the Chicago-style hot dog, and in Old Bay Seasoning.

Celery, onions, and bell peppers are the “holy trinity” of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine. Celery, onions, and carrots make up the French mirepoix, often used as a base for sauces and soups. Celery is a staple in many soups, such as chicken noodle soup.

 

 

Celery seeds

Celery seeds

The use of celery seed in pills for relieving pain was described by Aulus Cornelius Celsus around AD 30. Celery seeds contain a compound, 3-n-butylphthalide, that has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure in rats.

Bergapten in the seeds can increase photosensitivity, so the use of essential oil externally in bright sunshine should be avoided. The oil and large doses of seeds should be avoided during pregnancy, as they can act as a uterine stimulant. Seeds intended for cultivation are not suitable for eating as they are often treated with fungicides.
Celery is used in weight-loss diets, where it provides low-calorie dietary fibre bulk. Celery is often incorrectly purported to be a “negative-calorie food” based on the idea that the body will burn more calories during the digestion of the food than the body can extract from the food itself. However, the fact that the body uses very small amounts of energy in digestion compared to what can be extracted even from a low-calorie food like celery disproves this hypothesis.

 

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