Valued for its crisp texture and distinctive flavor, celery is as much a household staple as onions, carrots, or potatoes. Celery is versatile and widely used as an appetizer, a salad ingredient, and a flavorful addition to many cooked dishes. A bunch of celery is more accurately called a stalk, which is made up of individual ribs. These ribs are naturally crisp due to the rigidity of the plant’s cell walls and the high water content within the cells.
Wild celery has been around for almost 3,000 years. It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, where it was used not as a food, but as medicine. It was also used by the ancient Greeks as an award in sports contests. Celery was first cultivated in the 1500s in northern Europe, though another 200 years passed before modern-looking varieties with large, fleshy ribs appeared. Celery has been commercially grown in the United States for more than 200 years.
Because of its high water content, celery has hardly any calories: An 8-inch rib contains a mere 6 calories. Celery provides a good amount of potassium, as well as vitamin C, and some insoluble fiber. But one stalk of celery also has 32 mg of sodium. If someone eats a lot of stalks, this amount of sodium can add up.
Celery is an ideal diet food for people trying to control their weight because its fiber and high water content provide satiety, and its crunchy, chewy texture contributes to a feeling of satisfaction. However, does celery have “negative calories”? No. Celery is very low in calories, but not so low that chewing it burns more calories than the vegetable contains. It’s true that a medium-sized rib has only 6 calories, but chewing celery burns about the same number of calories per minute as just sitting. If you’re on a diet, munching celery is better for you than eating a candy bar. But it’s important to remember that no food has negative calories.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Celery in the National Nutrient Database.
The celery that every American is familiar with from classic tuna fish or potato salad to any party platter is a type of celery called Pascal. This green celery, which dominates the market and is definitely not known by its name, is the result of years of effort to domesticate this ancient vegetable and turn it less stringy. There are several different varieties of Pascal and a number of Pascal clones, but they are all essentially the same. The only standouts, which are not that easy to find, are:
Chinese celery: Also called Asian celery, this tall, skinny celery looks like a cross between parsley and celery. The stalks are fatter than parsley stalks and skinnier than celery stalks. It has a much more pronounced celery flavor than Pascal celery. Both the stems and leaves are used to add flavor to stir-fries and soups. Though it is difficult to find outside of Asian neighborhoods, this celery actually comes in a number of forms, mostly differing in stem and leaf color, from white to golden to deep green.
Golden celery: Golden celery is light yellow, a color that occurs because the plant is grown under a layer of soil or paper to prevent chlorophyll from developing, much like white asparagus or Belgian endive. This pale celery is favored in Italian cooking and can often be found in Italian markets.
Celery Cooking Tips and Recipe Ideas
Try these tips to buy the best celery, prepare it, and use celery in recipes.
Published February 12, 2016