(Apium graveolens var dulce – Family Umbelliferae)
Celery is a biennial plant related to the carrot and native to Europe and Asia. Its Latin generic name, Apium, is derived from the Celtic apon meaning “water”, and refers to its habitat while graveolens means ‘”heavily scented”. The stems of the wild plant are very bitter, thus distiguishing it from var. dulce, meaning sweet or pleasant.
There are three distinct forms of cultivated celery A. graveolens), although there is disagreement about their scientific names. The crunchy, thick-stalked type (var dulce) is the most common in North America. The gnarly-bulbed root, Celeriac (rapaceum) is the second form. The third is the closest to wild celery, which is slender-stalked and leafy. Chinese celery probably evolved from the wild form of Asian celery and bears a close resemblance to the leaf or cutting type which is still grown in Europe as an herb. Both are hardier and more robust than the long-stemmed trench celery and self-blanching strains. The leaves taste like its relative, the parsley, and used mainly in flavouring dishes rather than eating raw. The seeds are also used as flavouring.
Wild celery (var. graveolens) has always been a common plant in Europe, especially by the sea. Popular, not only as a food, celery was commonly used in medicines and religious practices, including funerals. Milder varieties began to appear in Italy in the 16th century, but the first mention of cultivated celery was by a French horticulturalist in 1623. The Chinese were also independently breeding celery as early as the 5th century CE; but theirs was thinner, juicier, and more strongly-flavoured than the European kind. Wild celery grows best on marshy ground near rivers particularly where the water is slightly saline. It is similar in appearance to cutting or stalk celery, but with a much more bitter taste. Cultivated varieties are now used more as a diuretic and in the treatment of rheumatism.
Celery’s crispness comes from the small amount of dietary fiber: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin (the noncarbohydrate polysaccharide found in leaves, stems, and roots). It has some sugar, but almost no starch. Celery is a good source of vitamin A derived from carotenes, whose yellow is masked by the green chlorophyll pigments. The darker the green, the more vitamin A it contains. Celery also contains vitamins C, B1, and B2; calcium; iron; magnesium; phosphorus; silicon; potassium; and sodium; making it a good electrolyte replacer, if used raw in drinks. However, it is the leaves that contain most of the nutrients. In cooking, fresh celery leaves can be used in place of parsley in an emergency.
The coumarin compounds in celery appear useful in toning the heart muscle and blood vessels, as well as helping in cases of migraine headaches. One of the compounds thought to be responsible is 3-n-butyl phthalide, which also helps significantly to lower blood pressure. The leaves act as a diuretic and appetite stimulant. Dried ground celery is sold as a salt substitute for those on low sodium diets. Celery is a traditional Vietnamese remedy for lowering high blood pressure and has long been used in other traditional medicines as a calming food. It is best to buy organic, as conventionally grown celery is very prone to high nitrate levels because of the fertilizers used. Celery planted with any of the cabbage family of plants will help deter damaging butterflies; but it also grows well with beans, tomatoes, and leeks. If left to flower, celery attracts beneficial insects.
Stalk celery forms only poorly defined tubers (celeriac) as growth takes place mainly above the ground. Older varieties require blanching, but the newer varieties are self-blanching. Depending on the origin, the plants may weigh just over a pound to more than two. The variety most often found in stores today is the bright green Pascal. Golden Heart is a white variety that was once fashionable, but now rarely seen. Chinese celery is available in Asian stores and looks like a slender, smaller, greener version of the regular with more leaves. The stalks are also thinner and the flavour stronger, and it is rarely eaten raw. The Chinese do not blanch their celery, preferring the green stalks; and they always eat it cooked.
“Trench” celery is the name used to describe the method of blanching the stems. This is accomplished by earthing up the base so that they do not have the green colouring of the stalks. This type is very hardy and is harvested late autumn to early spring. There are newer varieties that are self-blanching, but are less hardy and have a shorter growing season.
Trench celery is divided into the white, pink, and hardier red varieties and include the following:
Giant Pink has crisp pale pink stalks that blanch easily.
Giant Red has outer stalks that turn shell-pink when blanched.
Giant White is an old, tall, white celery with crisp stems and a solid good flavoured heart.
Hopkins Fenlander is a late maturing celery of medium length and free from strings.
Standard Bearer is a red celery that has the reputation for being the latest of all to reach maturity.
Self-Blanching and American green celery varieties are as follows:
Celebrity is an early maturing variety that has crisp long stems and a nutty flavoured heart. It is one of the least stringy self-blanching varieties with good bolting resistance.
Golden Self-Blanching has golden-yellow hearts, and is crisp and tasty and does not become stringy.
Greensleeves produces tasty green stalks.
Ivory Tower has long white stringless stems.
Lathom Self-Blanching is a vigorous well-flavoured variety with crisp stems.
Tall Utah Triumph has long succulent tender green stems.
Caution: Celery contains limonene, an essential oil known to cause contact dermatitis in some people. This oil can also be found in dill, caraway seeds, and the peel of lemons and limes. Another precaution is the furocoumarins (psoralens) that are released by damaged or moldy celery. These chemicals are photosensitizers, as well as potential mutagens and carcinogens. Contact with these chemicals can cause skin problems in those who are sensitive.
Chinese celery, cutting leaf celery, leaf celery, soup celery, smallage, quin cai, kan tsai (and other Chinese variations)
(Apium graveolens var. secalinum – Family Umbelliferae)
Leaf cutting or soup celery are less succulent, but full of flavour. It is very similar to wild celery and, like stalk celery, does not develop tubers; but is cultivated for its aromatic leaves, generally in greenhouses or out of doors where it can be harvested by machine. It has shorter stems and more leaves.
French Dinant is excellent for drying and is full of flavour.
Soup Celery d’Amsterdam is aromatic and prolific, producing thin stems and lots of leaves.
Celeriac, celery root, celery knob, turnip root celery
(Apium graveolens var. rapaceum – Family Umbelliferae)
Celeriac is the starchy root of some forms of celery. Wild celery has a small, but edible, root. In 1536, a botanical writer (Ruellius) mentioned that the root was delicious both raw and cooked. Another writer in 1575 (Rauwolf) said that it was considered a delicacy in the Arab world. Thus, the idea of developing a variety with really large roots arose naturally. Such a variety was mentioned in 1613 in J. Bauhin’s Historia Plantarum. Celeriac was introduced to Britain in the early 18th century by Stephen Switzer, who brought seed from Alexandria and wrote about it in a book. Although celeriac became popular on the mainland Europe, it never did in the English-speaking world. Celeriac has a milder, sweeter taste than celery and is good cooked or grated raw in salads.
Celeriac is about the size of a soft-ball, knobby and gnarly, with clumps of rootlets sticking out. The skin is tan-coloured, with a white interior and sometimes sold with its greens attached. It can keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, if stored properly wrapped in a paper towel and then in a plastic bag. It needs to be peeled before using, but will discolour easily like a potato. When it is cut, it releases polyphenoloxidase, an enzyme which turns the vegetable brown. Therefore, using lemon juice or keeping the slices in vinegar water will keep it from turning brown until it is ready to be cooked. It can also be used raw in any type of salad, but needs to be treated with lemon juice first. It is an excellent addition to a stir fry or steamed vegetable dish.
Celeriac is a starchy root of a plant similar to celery; but it has more starch, fiber, iron, and B vitamins, but about the same amount of vitamins A and C, although less sodium and potassium. It also has calcium and phosphorus; and, although not a major contributor to health, it is a nice accompaniment. Celeriac oil has a calming effect and is a traditional remedy for skin complaints and rheumatism. It is also a diuretic; thus, those with kidney disorders should avoid eating large quantities.
Celeriac is an excellent versatile winter vegetable that is more disease-resistant than celery, while still having the same familiar aroma and flavour. There are many varieties, including these few: Iram, Marble Ball, Alabaster, Tellus, Balder, Brilliant, Monarch, and Regent. All have good flavours and can be eaten raw or cooked. Celeriac is grown widely throughout continental Europe from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, but is less popular in Britain and the US. France, Germany, Holland, and Begium are the main producers, with 50% of the harvest going to the pickling industry.
Apio, arracacha, arracha, Peruvian carrot, Peruvian parsnip, apio amarillo
(Arracacia xanthorrhiza – Family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae)
This tuber is a combination of carrot, celeriac, and root parsley, wrapped in a tropical tuber. Apio is the Spanish word for celery, which is a relative. This unusual vegetable has the subtle flavours of plantain, yucca, and coconut. The texture and colour hint at plantain and yucca with their special sweet stickiness and the plantain’s golden hue. Originally from the Andes region of Venezuela to Bolivia, it was later cultivated in the highlands of Central America, where it grows brighter and deeper colours than what is commonly available in Costa Rica. Some call celeriac ‘apio’, but this is not accurate. In Latin America, apio is considered as having two parts, a stumpy neck and carrot-like fingers. The fingers provide a smoother, more tender, and less concentrated flavour than the neck that is most often seen in Western stores. This vegetable is not only used to flavour soups, but can be added to other dishes to give it a colour and texture that is creamy and buttery. It needs to be boiled or steamed and must be served hot as it turns heavy. Microwaving also destroys the texture. It is very perishable, turning soft and slimy in just a few days.