Revised July 2012 by Malinda Geisler, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Celery has nutritional properties and versatility that have made it a relatively common item in the grocery cart. During 2009, U.S. consumers used an average of 6.1 pounds of fresh celery per person.
According to the USDA, the 2011 crop of celery totaled 19 million cwt, and at an average price of $20 per cwt (crate weight based on 60 pounds per crate), the total value of celery was nearly $382 million.
Celery (Apium graveolens and A. rapaceum) is a member of the parsley family. This cool-season crop is a biennial plant grown as an annual. The plant also grows wild in wet places throughout most of Europe and was first cultivated in the Mediterranean region about 3,000 years ago.
The early plants were very primitive and were used primarily for medicinal purposes, such as sedatives. The first use of celery as a culinary ingredient was as a flavoring, and the earliest printed record of a food use is from France, dating to 1623.
Celery Stalks, Leaves and Roots
Today, celery is a popular herb and vegetable in North America and Europe. The stalk is served in raw vegetable dishes or sliced and cooked as an important ingredient in many soup- and stew-like dishes. For instance, it is a critical element in many ethnic dishes such as the Creole cookery of New Orleans, where celery shows up frequently in gumbo and related dishes. The leaves may be chopped and used as a garnish (similar to parsley). More frequently, they are cooked in soups or sauces as a flavoring herb. The root, often in combination with bay or boldo leaves, parsley root and lovage (a wild celery variety) leaves, also can be used as a flavoring herb or can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, celery varieties with fleshy stems are popular; on the European continent, celeriac varieties (root celery or turnip-rooted celery, variety rapaceum) are desired by consumers and more commonly found in the marketplace.
Celery seed (imported from France and India) is an important but lesser used flavoring and garnish herb. The seed has a similar but much stronger aroma than the root. Both the seed and the root products are produced from varieties quite different from those used to produce the "fresh" vegetable product. The seed and the root can be ground and mixed with salt to form the commercial celery salt formulations marketed throughout the world. Usually, celery salt is made from celery root extract to facilitate easier adjustment of the flavor level.
In the medicinal-herbal market, celery oil, as well as ground seed or root, are touted as herbal and dietary supplements that "promote and regulate" healthy blood pressure, joint "health" (anti-arthritic, anti-rheumitic properties) and uric acid levels (improve kidney function). Also, these formulations are claimed to be useful in treating gout and for combating infections of the bladder, as well as being a cancer preventative. They are low-cost and high-value products.
With respect to these claims, there is some scientific evidence from the U.S. research community that the chemical constituents of celery seed oil may be beneficial. In one study, sedanolide and butyl phthalide may have reduced the incidence of tumors in laboratory animals between 38 percent to 57 percent. In another study, it is strongly suggested that celery seed oil may lower blood pressure (Source: Organicfood.co.uk). In both cases, whether celery oil ingestion can repeatedly benefit human subjects and in what quantities is it beneficial or harmful is unknown.
The various celery varieties contain a number of potent chemicals, including very caustic secondary plant metabolites that function as insect- or herbivore-repellant defensive compounds to protect the plant. For instance, one chemical in celery is a potent photosensitizer and may cause skin irritation in field workers.
Fresh celery is a product popular with the health conscious. It contains the important vitamins A, C and folic acid, and nutritional minerals, yet has almost no calories. It is also an excellent source of cleansing dietary fiber. Some dieticians suggest that celery has negative calories, implying that the process of eating and digesting this vegetable consumes more calories from the body than are obtained from the vegetable. Celery also contributes to dental hygiene, being a natural fibrous tooth cleaner and containing compounds that act as surface cleansers.
Most U.S. celery is sold in the fresh market, but a portion is processed for use in prepared foods such as soups, juices and convenience dinners. These are mature markets dominated by a handful of large producers that have the production, processing and handling infrastructure to produce and get this relatively perishable crop to market in a timely fashion. For the fresh vegetable market, celery must be harvested within a few days after reaching a marketable size or its quality deteriorates. Growers schedule plantings to develop uniform lots that reach marketable size on roughly a weekly basis. The product must be carefully handled and should never be stacked more than four high in from-field transportation, storage or shipping crates. Usually fresh celery stalks are packed in an upright position in their crates and may require constant temperature and moisture control to ensure marketable quality. Celery usually is stored, and when possible, transported at 34 degrees F and 85 percent relative humidity.
Most celery produced in the United States is a variant of the Pascal (green) type. While it is grown year-round in this country, it is more difficult to grow than most fruits and vegetables. Celery requires a longer growing season, lots of water and prefers cooler temperatures. Without the proper care and micro-climatic growing conditions, celery stalks can be stringy or dry.
California and Michigan produced most of the U.S. celery crop for the fresh market and for processing into canned, frozen and dehydrated products, with California producing the majority of the total crop. In 2011, California harvested 26,400 acres of celery, producing 18.2 million cwt of celery valued at nearly $369 million. That same year, Michigan harvested 1,800 acres of celery, producing 882,000 cwt of celery worth $13 million.
Exports and Imports
The United States continues to be a net exporter of celery. In 2011, the United States exported 110,247 metric tons (MT) of fresh celery valued at nearly $71 million. Canada buys 80 percent of the fresh U.S. celery exports.
The United States does import fresh celery with over half of the imports arriving between August and mid April. The U.S. imported 46,203 MT of celery in 2011 valued at $18.3 million. Most of the U.S. fresh celery imports are supplied by Mexico.
Vegetables Annual Summary, National Ag Statistics Service, USDA.
Profile created April 2003 and revised July 2012.