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Celery is a member of the umbelliferae family, along with carrots, parsley, and fennel. It is a biennial vegetable, meaning it has a normal growing cycle of once every two years. While most people associate celery with its stalks, its leaves, roots, and seeds are also used as food and seasoning.
Celery grows to a height of 12 to 16 inches and is composed of leaf-topped ribs arranged in a conical shape and joined at a common base (the collection of ribs formed the stalk). The ribs have a crunchy texture and a delicate but mildly salty taste. The ribs in the center are called the heart and are the most tender. In the United States, we are used to celery in different shades of green, but Europeans also enjoy a variety that is white in color. Like white asparagus, this type of celery is grown shaded from direct sunlight, so its production of chlorophyll, and hence its green color, are inhibited.
Modern celery originated from wild celery, native to the Mediterranean, where it’s seeds were once widely used as a medicine, particularly as a diuretic. The initial mention of the medicinal properties of celery leaves dates back to the ninth century B.C.E., when celery made an appearance in the Odyssey’, the famous epic by the Greek poet Homer. The ancient Greeks used the leaves as laurels to decorate their renowned athletes, while the ancient Romans used celery as a seasoning, each addition that has been carried on through the centuries.
The use of celery as a food has expanded beyond medicine and as a seasoning in Europe during the 1700s. Celery was introduced in the United States early in the 19th century and is now produced throughout the world.
Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. It is a very good source of potassium, folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B1. Celery is a good source of calcium and vitamin B2. While it is true that celery contains more sodium than most other vegetables, the sodium is offset by very high levels of potassium (a natural balance).
Celery contains phytochemical compounds known as coumarins, which are shown to be useful in cancer prevention and capable of enhancing the activity of certain white blood cells. Coumarin compounds also tone the vascular system, lower blood pressure, and may be useful in cases of migraines.
Celery is also rich in potassium and sodium. In fact, celery-based juices consumed after a workout serve as great electrolyte replacement drinks. Celery may also help lower cholesterol and prevent cancer by improving detoxification.
The celery extract standardize to contain 85% 3-n-butyl phthalide (3nB) has also been shown to produce significant benefits in the treatment of
rheumatism, a general term used for arthritic and muscular aches and pain. 3nB also lowers the production of uric acid by inhibiting the enzyme xanthine oxidase. Eventually celery seed extract lowers blood uric acid levels; however, quite interestingly, the initial blood uric acid measurements may increase in people with gout as uric acid crystals begin to dissolve — a very good sign.
SELECTION & STORAGE
Celery should be light green, fresh looking, and crisp. The ribs should be hard and firm. Limp, pliable celery should be avoided. Avoid celery that looks damaged or has any signs of discoloration. Also, make sure that the celery does not have a seed stem in place of the smaller, tender stocks that should reside in the center of the celery. Celery with the seed stem is often more bitter in flavor.
Celery root is light brown on top and becomes darker toward the bottom where the roots extend. Celery root should be firm one fresh.
To store celery stalks or roots, place them in a sealed container or wrapped in a perforated plastic bag or damp cloth and store them in the refrigerator. If you are storing cut or peeled celery, ensure that it is dry and free from water residue, as this can drain some of its nutrients. Freezing will make celery wilt and should be avoided unless you will be using it in a future cooked recipe.
Prior to washing celery, cut off the base and leaves, then wash the leaves and stalks under cold running water. If the celery is not organically grown, soak in cold water with a mild solution of additive-free soap or use a produce wash and rinse thoroughly. Cut the stalks into pieces of desired length. Remove any fibrous strings by making a thin cut into one end of the stalk and peeling away the fibers. Try to utilize the leaves as well as the ribs, as the leaves contain the most vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.
Due to its high water content and tendency to wilt quickly, celery should not be kept at room temperature for too long. If you have celery that has wilted, sprinkle it with a little water and place it for several hours in the refrigerator, where it will regain its crispness.
Celery root should be peeled before preparing, particularly the bottom, as the skin around the root is hairy and sticky, creating an unpleasant texture in finished dishes.
Since celery is among the foods on which pesticide residue have been most frequently found, we recommend choosing celery that has been organically grown.
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