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SCINQ BASICS: Maybe it’s time to give celery a closer look and more appreciation.

Celery, often relegated to the realm of diet foods or overlooked in the crisper drawer, is a culinary gem waiting to be celebrated. Its crisp texture and subtle, earthy flavor offer a refreshing counterpoint in a myriad of dishes, from salads to stews. When munched raw, it presents a satisfying crunch, serving as nature’s own edible utensil for scooping dips or pairing with cheeses. Cooked, its character transforms, lending a delicate sweetness to soups and stir-fries. Moreover, its leaves, often discarded, harbor an intense concentration of its unique flavor and can be used as a fragrant herb. Beyond its versatility, celery carries a humble elegance, reminding us that sometimes, the most understated ingredients can elevate a dish to culinary excellence.

close up of a dish with celery
Photo by Suki Lee on

Ingredient: Celery.(Apium graveolens var. dulce)

Descended from: Apium graveolens var. graveolens.

Domestication date: Celery has been used by humans for thousands of years, both as a medicinal plant and as food. It is believed to have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years. Ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and the Romans, made mention of celery or celery-like plants in their historical records.

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Properties: Celery, a staple in many culinary dishes, possesses a distinctive set of physical properties influenced largely by its cellular structure and high water content. The stalks display a light green hue, with variations ranging from pale yellow-green to a richer dark green, contrasted by the darker leaves.

When touched or eaten, celery offers a crisp and crunchy texture, a testament to its water-rich nature. This high water content, which is approximately 95%, not only imparts a hydrating quality to the vegetable but also ensures its density remains close to that of water. The mild, slightly peppery, and earthy flavor of celery is accompanied by a fresh and mild aromatic scent.

In terms of structure, the long stalks of celery taper gracefully towards the top, with leaves branching out elegantly from their apex. Although the stalks stand firm, they are not particularly resilient and can easily snap under force. The vegetable’s water-rich constitution means it has a relatively high thermal conductivity, causing it to soften swiftly when exposed to heat.

One of the delightful experiences of consuming celery is the distinctive crunch it produces, a sound resulting from the rupture of its water-laden cells. All these characteristics determine how celery is utilized in cooking and the specific storage conditions required to retain its freshness.

Health benefits: Celery is not only a staple in many dishes but also a reservoir of health benefits. Despite being low in calories, celery is a rich source of vitamin K, making it an excellent choice for those conscious about weight management.

Beyond its basic nutritional profile, celery is teeming with antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta carotene, flavonoids, and a dozen other varieties that work collectively to combat free radicals, mitigating cell damage. Its anti-inflammatory properties potentially provide relief from ailments ranging from joint pains to lung infections and even skin conditions like acne. Digestive health gets a boost from the fibrous nature of celery, facilitating regular bowel movements.

One of the standout phytochemicals in celery is phthalides, believed to relax arterial wall tissues, thereby enhancing blood flow and helping in the reduction of blood pressure. Furthermore, the balance of high potassium and sodium in celery aids in fluid regulation and acts as a diuretic, assisting the body in flushing out excess fluids.

Liver health stands to benefit from the combined action of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in celery. The compound 3-n-butylphthalide (BuPh) present in celery offers a lipid-lowering action that could contribute to decreased levels of bad cholesterol. On the microbial front, celery seeds have shown promise due to their anti-bacterial properties, potentially inhibiting bacterial growth.

There are suggestions, albeit not definitively proven, that celery can assist in reducing uric acid, providing potential relief for gout sufferers. A noteworthy mention is luteolin, a flavonoid in celery, which has demonstrated potential in inhibiting cancer cell growth, particularly in the pancreas.

Dishes of Note: One of the most famous dishes that prominently features celery is the classic “Waldorf Salad.” Originating from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in the late 19th century, the traditional Waldorf Salad is a simple combination of fresh celery, crisp apples, and walnuts, dressed in mayonnaise and often served on a bed of lettuce. Over the years, various adaptations have included ingredients like grapes, chicken, or turkey, but celery remains a key crunchy component that defines this iconic salad.

History: During the Middle Ages, celery was a far cry from the staple kitchen ingredient we know today. Resembling wild celery more than its cultivated counterpart, it bore a bitter taste that made it less appealing for widespread culinary use. Instead, its primary value lay in the realm of medicine. The seeds of celery were particularly esteemed for their diuretic properties, offering potential relief from conditions like arthritis and gout. When it did find its way into the kitchen, celery was typically relegated to a minor role, mingling with other herbs and vegetables to infuse broths and stews with flavor. Beyond its medicinal and culinary applications, celery held a somber cultural significance in some quarters. Particularly in the Mediterranean, where the plant grew naturally, it was intertwined with rituals of mourning, echoing ancient Greek traditions where celery leaves adorned the dead as garlands. As Europe transitioned from the medieval era to the Renaissance, advances in cultivation rendered celery sweeter and more palatable, paving the way for its ascent in European gastronomy.

IMAGE CREDIT: Shameel mukkath.

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