Friday, August 14, 2015

Celery 101

Celery (Apium graveolens) is a cultivated plant, variety in the family Apiaceae (celery, carrots and parsley), commonly used as a vegetable. The stalks are eaten and used in cooking. In North America the dominant variety available is "celery", Apium graveolens var. dulce, whose stalks are eaten raw, in salads, or as a flavoring in soups, stews, and pot roasts. In Europe the dominant variety is celeriac (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum), a large bulb, which is eaten cooked, or as a the major ingredient in a soup. Celeriac is commonly called called "celery root” but it is not a root. Celery seed is also used as a spice. The plant can grow 2-3 feet. In the past, celery was grown as a vegetable for winter and early spring. By the 19th century, the season for celery had been extended, to last from the beginning of September to late in April.

Celery is believed to be originally from the Mediterranean basin. Ancient literature documents that celery, or a similar plant form, was cultivated for medicinal purposes before 850 B.C. Woven garlands of wild celery are reported to have been found in early Egyptian tombs. Celery was considered a holy plant in the classical period of Greece and was worn by the winners of the Nemean Games, similar to the use of bay leaves at the Olympic Games.The Romans valued celery more for cooking than for religion although much superstition was connected with it. The celery plant was thought to bring bad fortune under certain circumstances.

Although celery is thought to be from the Mediterranean, indigenous relatives of celery are found in southern Sweden, the British Isles, Egypt, Algeria, India, China, New Zealand, California and southernmost portions of South America. The Italians domesticated celery as a vegetable in the 17th century resulting in selections with solid stems. Early stalk celery had a tendency to produce hollow stalks. After years of domestication, selection eliminated this characteristic as well as bitterness and strong flavors.

Celery is believed to be the same plant as selinon, mentioned in Homer's Odyssey about 850 B.C. The word celery comes from the French celeri, which is derived from the ancient Greek word. The old Roman names, as well as those in many modern languages, are derived from the same root word and sound remarkably similar. This indicates a rather recent wide distribution and use of celery.

California and Michigan produced most of the U.S. celery crop. In 2011, California harvested 27,000 acres of celery, Michigan harvested 1,800 acres of celery. The United States continues to be a net exporter of celery. In 2012, the United States exported 284.2 million pounds of fresh celery. Canada buys 80 percent of the fresh U.S. celery exports. However, the US does import celery from Mexico mostly between August and mid April. Per capita consumption of celery is about 9 to 10 pounds per person annually.

Did you know that nibbling of celery stalks helps in cleaning of the teeth and mouth after the meal? Also that Ancient Romans used celery as aphrodisiac? Modern science proved that celery contains substance (called androsterone) that is also found in man's sweat. This substance plays role in attracting females. The Bloody Mary cocktail was invented in the 1920’s at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, however it wasn’t until the 1960’s that celery was associated with the drink, when a guest at a Chicago hotel was given a Bloody Mary but nothing to stir it with. He improvised with a stick of celery from the buffet! More fun facts can be found here and here.

To Store

According to The Kitchn the best way to store celery is to wrap tightly in aluminum foil and refrigerate it. Celery can stay crisp for weeks. According to an old issue of Cook's Illustrated, this method works because foil allows the ripening hormone ethylene to escape. In contrast, a plastic bag traps ethylene gas, accelerating moisture loss and spoilage.

To Nourish

Celery has long been regarded as an ideal food for those trying to manage their weight due to its low calorie status and high water content - 1 stalk contains just 2 calories. Celery a good source of potassium and high in calcium– which is important for healthy bones, blood pressure and nerve function. Celery also has a good amount of antioxidants – it’s packed with Vitamin C, Potassium and Iron, and provides a good dose of folate too. Celery is low sodium, cholesterol free and contains dietary fibre which helps keep your digestive system healthy. Recent research indicates that the plant compound luteolin - found in celery - may help combat Alzheimer's and other degenerative mental illnesses. One of active compounds in celery is the phytochemical coumarin, which has been proven effective in cancer prevention and capable of enhancing the activity of certain white blood cells that help fight cancer. More nutrition facts click here.

To Try

To Use

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