What is Celery Seed?

Derived from the Latin word Sedano, celery has been used by the Greeks historically as a medicine and as a sign of victory. The Romans were the first to value it as a seasoning, and later it became a delicacy for Italians and French. It was only in the nineteenth century that North Americans began to use celery seed, mainly in pickling solutions. Today Europeans commonly use the leaves for soups and sauces and as a garnish, and the stalks and roots as vegetables or salads. Bengalis use the ground seeds of a related species while the Chinese and Southeast Asians use a local celery leaf to flavor many of their dishes.

Origin and Varieties

Celery seed is native to eastern and southern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is cultivated in India, France, Britain, Japan, China, Hungary, and the United States. The seeds are cultivated from the original wild celery variety. Another cultivated celery variety is eaten for its stalk, leaves, and seeds. Celeriac or celery root, yet another celery variety, is savored for its root.

Spice Description

Celery seeds are tiny globular seeds that are sold whole, slightly crushed, or ground. The leaves, which are light green, are used whole (fresh or dried), flaked, or ground. The stalks or stems and roots are sold fresh. Properties: The dried seed is dark brown with light ridges. It has a harsh, penetrating, spicy aroma and a warm bitter taste that leaves a burning sensation. The seeds have a stronger and more intense flavor than the leaf, stem, or root. The French type of celery seed is herbal and sweet with a citrus bouquet, while the Indian type is more herbal with a slight lemonlike aroma. Celeriac root, leaf, and stalk have strong celery, herbaceous, and parsley-like tastes. Ground celery seed is sometimes called celery powder.

Chemical Components

The seeds have 2% to 3% essential oil, which is yellow to greenish-brown. It consists primarily of terpenes, mainly limonene (68%), with sesquiterpenes such as 8% β-selinene, 8% n-butylidene phthalide, and myrcene. The characteristic aroma is due to the phthalides. The fixed oil is 16%. The seed has calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. Celery stem has 37% limonene, 19% cis-β-ocimene, 12% n-butyl phthalide, including myrcene, γ-terpinene, and trans-ocimene. Celery root has 18% γ-terpinene and trans-β-ocimene, 16.7% 3-methyl-4-ethylhexane, and 13.2% ρ-cymene, including limonene, cis-β-ocimene and α-terpineol. Celery leaf has about 0.1% volatile oil, mainly 33.6% myrcene, 26.3% limonene, 14.2% cis-β-ocimene, 6.2% n-butyl phthalide, and 3.7% β-selinene. The seed oleoresin is green, with 4.75 lb. equivalent to 100 lb. of freshly ground celery seed.

Cooking with Celery Seed

Celery seed is a popular spice in European and North American foods and beverages. The seeds are used in fresh tomato juices, chicken soups, pickles, salad dressings, coleslaw, bread, and meats. Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans add celery seeds and leaves to sauces, soups, stews, and salads. The ground form or extractives are used in salami, bologna, frankfurters, knockwurst, sausages, corned beef, and Bloody Mary drinks. Cooking tends to reduce its bitterness and enhance its sweetness. North Indians and Bengalis add celery seed to curries, pickles, and chutneys. Celery pairs well with chicken, turmeric, sage, cumin, soy sauce, ginger, and vinegar. Celery stalks and roots are not spices but are discussed because they add flavor to many foods and beverages. If you have a juicer for celery, you may add some celery seeds in your morning celery smoothie and get a more nutritious cocktail. Celery stalks are braised to give distinct flavorings and crunchy textures. Leaves of celery are chopped and used as a garnish for soups and sauces, while stalks of celery are cut and used to flavor soups, stuffings, and casseroles. Celery root is eaten raw in salads or is cooked and served as a vegetable. In North America, the leaves are added to Creole gumbos and soups. In East Asia and Southeast Asia, it flavors soups, stir-fries, and sauces, and is used as a garnish for Chinese-style rice dishes. Celeriac root is eaten like the turnip—raw, blanched, pureed, stir-fried, or boiled. It provides a clean celery-like flavor and a crunchy texture.
Spice Blends: bouquet garni, gumbo blends, curry blends, stuffing blends, pickling blends, and tomato juice blends.

Celery Seed Substitute

One teaspoon of celery seed equals 2 tablespoons of minced celery tops. Other options are dill seed or celery salt (reduce the salt elsewhere in the recipe).

Health Benefits of Celery Seed

Romans used celery seed in herbal tonics as an aphrodisiac, while the Greeks used it in love potions. Celery was traditionally used as a sedative for nervousness or to promote sleep. It reduces swelling and was used to treat gout and arthritis. In India, it was taken as a remedy for rheumatism.

Other Names

Garden celery and wild celery. Many global names call the seed, leaf, and stalk by similar names. Celery seed is also called karaf (Arabic), lakhod garos (Armenian), chiluri (Bengali), kun choi, qin chai (Cantonese, Mandarin), selleri (Danish), selderij (Dutch), karafs (Farsi), celeri (French), sellerie(German), bodia jamoda (Gujerati), seleri (Hebrew), ajmud (Hindi), serori (Japanese), sedano (Italian), aipo (Portuguese), si sang (Laotian), ajmoda (Marathi), seldjerey (Russian), apio (Spanish), selderi, daun sop (Malaysian, Indonesian), selleri (Swedish and Norwegian), kinchay (Tagalog), kheun chai (Thai), kereviz (Turkish), ajmod (Urdu), and can tay (Vietnamese). C Celeriac is also called turnip root or knob celery.

Scientific Name

Apium graveolens
Family: Apiaceae (parsley family)

Photo by Howcheng / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)