by Lisa Hugh MSHS RD LDN CLT
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Celery has been a staple vegetable for some time. It is commonly used in cooking and is on just about every veggie tray at the grocery store. Recently though, celery has gone from rather boring to pretty popular.
In my practice, lots of patients are asking about the health benefits of celery juice and if they should be incorporating this into their daily routines. Even though there are a lot of celery benefits, it is not a food that everybody can eat.
If you can’t eat celery (or don’t want to eat celery), keep reading to find out about finding a good celery substitute. Even if you like celery, but ran out and need a celery substitution, the information in this post can help. You’ll learn what celery is, how it is used in cooking and meals, and how to find a good substitution for whatever food you are preparing.
What Is Celery?
Celery is a vegetable that grows in marshlands. It has been cultivated in many countries and used as a food, seasoning, and in herbal medicine. Celery grows in bunches of straight stalks topped with leaves.
In America, we are most familiar with the Pascal variety of celery. Celeriac is more common in Europe. While similar to celery, the root is the main edible part. Other types of celery, such as wild celery, are common in other regions.
Celery is a member of the Parsley (Umbelliferae) food family. Other members of this food family include anise, caraway, carrot, celeriac, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley, cilantro, chervil, and lovage.
Celery In Cooking
Celery leaves, celery stalks, celery spice, and celery seeds are used in cooking in many ways including:
- As a main ingredient (such as cream of celery soup).
- As a side dish (such as with chicken wings).
- To give crunch (such as chopped up in tuna salad).
- To give color (such as in a pale chicken salad).
- As a snack (on veggie trays or with a topping such as peanut butter or cream cheese
- As a source of flavor and texture (when it is cooked in soups, stews, and main dishes – think classic Chicken Noodle).
- As a seasoning (celery seed, celery salt)
- As part of the “Holy Trinity” of Louisiana Cajun cooking (celery, onion, bell pepper. Examples of Cajun meals are Jambalaya, Gumbo, and Etouffee.
- As part of the French base Mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot. An example is Chicken and Dumplings,)
- As part of the Italian base Battuto/Soffritto (celery, onion, carrots with herbs, which may be cooked in lard, olive oil, or butter).
- As a garnish (doesn’t that celery look fancy in a Bloody Mary?).
- As part of the Polish base Wloszczyzna (celery, parsley, leek, cabbage) which roughly translates to “Italian stuff.”
- As a seasoning in the form on celery seed and celery salt (popular in Bloody Mary’s and Old Bay seasoning).
Can You Be Allergic to Celery?
The short answer is definitely yes. It is possible to be allergic to any food. Celery is not considered as a common allergen in the US. Celery allergy is associated with birch pollen allergy and mugwort pollen allergy.
Symptoms of celery (and celeriac) allergy include tingling of the mouth, difficulty breathing, digestive symptoms, and anaphylactic shock. Because celery and celeriac are so closely related, strict avoidance of both foods is recommended if an allergy is known or suspected.
(If you have or suspect you have any food allergy, you should definitely talk to your healthcare provider to see if allergy testing is needed and to discuss a safety plan including an epi-pen.)
Celery may also need to be avoided for other reasons. Some people have a food sensitivity to celery. (A food sensitivity involves the immune system but not IgE cells as in classic food allergies. Generally speaking, food sensitivity reactions involve white blood cells.)
Also, some people have a food intolerance to celery. (Food intolerances can be caused by digestive problems and generally don’t involve the immune system.)
Common and Hidden Sources of Celery
In the European Union, food labels must clearly identify if celery is present. However, it may not be clearly identified on American labels and menus. If celery makes you sick, please be careful with these foods that may contain hidden sources of celery:
- Canned Soups
- Vegetable juices including celery juice and V8
- Salads such as tuna salad, chicken salad, seafood salad, macaroni salad
- Cajun / Creole cuisine
- European cuisine
- Asian cuisines
- Soups, Stews
- Salads and Salad dressings
- Cured bacon & other cured meats
- Bloody Mary (This mixed drink may contain celery seed even if you don’t see fresh celery in the drink.)
- Chicago style hot dog (Celery Salt may be used as a topping.)
- Fish & Seafood dishes (Old Bay is a common seasoning and contains celery seed.
- If you like these foods but want to make them celery free, read on to learn more about selecting a suitable substitute.
How To Find A Celery Substitute – Substitution Based On Characteristics
Because celery is used in a variety of ways, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all substitution. To find the best option, think about the characteristics of celery and how it is used in a recipe.
Four main characteristics of celery:
1. Crunch – Celery adds crunch to tuna salad and is a crunchy side when served with chicken wings.
2. Color – Celery adds color to salads, stir-fries, and other dishes.
3. Flavor and Texture – Celery is prominent in many bases of many foods such as soups, stews and sauces.
4. Seasoning – Celery seeds add a pleasant flavor to many dishes.
So, when looking at a recipe that includes celery, thinking about why the celery is included will give us an indication of what will be a good substitute.
If you need crunch, you can try these for a raw celery substitute.
- Chopped Red or Green Cabbage
- Chopped Kale or Collard Greens
- Lettuce – any type
- Water chestnuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Sliced or Chopped Radish
- Chopped almonds or pecans
If you need texture and flavor, you can try these for a healthy celery alternative.
- Fennel (Fennel stalks and fennel bulbs can be used.)
- Red, yellow, or white onion
- Scallions or green onions
- Fresh chives
- Bell peppers (Green bell peppers can be a tasty and unexpected celery substitute in stuffing.)
If you need a green vegetable as a celery replacement:
- Bok Choy
- Green beans
- Collard Greens, Kale, Mustard Greens
- Swiss Chard
- Beet Greens
- Brussels Sprouts
If you need flavor and seasoning you can try these as a celery seed and/or celery salt substitute.
- Dill Seed
- Caraway Seed
- Black Peppe
- White Pepper
- Garlic & Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Cayenne Pepper
- Paprika, Smoked Paprika, Hot Paprika
When you’re considering what to use as an alternative to celery, also ask yourself these questions:
What do you like?
What do you have at home?
What have you used before?
And, please share your tips in the comments below.
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