Who doesn’t love celery? It adds a crunchy texture to salads and aromatic intensity of flavor to all kinds of soups and stews. But there’s another way to deliver that spicy flavor, with even more intensity and to a much wider range of foods.
It’s celery seed, a spice that’s easily available but sadly under-used. The spice with the misleading name.
It seems reasonable to assume that celery seed is the seed of the celery plant we know and love. In fact, it’s not. It’s the seed of a biennial herb known as smallage or wild celery. Smallage is related to the celery plant but it’s a closer cousin to parsley.
The plant itself is strongly aromatic and its leaves are used in salads, soups, and stews all over continental Europe. But it’s the seeds of smallage – celery seeds – that really pack a punch.
Celery seed is probably most familiar as the main ingredient of celery salt, the flavorsome and low-sodium alternative used by many health-conscious cooks. For this, the seeds are ground, releasing a rather bitter flavor. Because of this bitter note, the spice is more usually used whole rather than ground.
The warm and slightly bitter flavor of celery seed is a great way to sharpen up the flavor of soup stocks or sauces such as mayonnaise. It’s an easy spice to use because its grassy, spicy flavor is exactly like that of celery itself, just more intense. Celery seed is a standard ingredient in Cajun cooking where, together with onion and sweet peppers, it forms the foundation of that cuisine.
A new range of flavors for your favorite dishes
Celery seed is often described as having hints of fennel and anise. But its unique characteristic is a grassy note which ties other herb flavors together. When used in combination with the more common European herbs such as thyme or oregano, it brings a new and more complex range of sensations to your palate.
So how can celery seed deliver new life to recipes that are becoming humdrum? You could try adding it to coleslaw, where it will bring a welcome zip. Or take a hint from German cooks who always add it to potato salads. If you’re fond of home-made pickles you will also find that the whole seeds will give them a real lift.
The intense flavor of celery seeds makes it useful in sauces or dressings based on cream or yogurt. The sharp notes of the celery seeds contrast well with the creamy texture. Try adding it to Greek yogurt for a new twist on tzatziki or its Indian cousin, raita.
Practical health benefits
A celery seed extract has become popular as a health supplement, claimed to have benefits in treating a range of problems from gout, through fluid retention to arthritis pain. But its most significant effect is the ability to lower blood pressure.
A pilot study from the University of Chicago showed that the active component in celery seed is effective in lowering both diastolic and systolic pressure. But why would you buy expensive supplements, when nature has provided these same components in a natural form.
By regularly including celery seed in your diet, you can have the same remarkable benefits you get from the commercial extracts, without including the chemical by-products of extraction and concentration.
History of healing
In fact, it is the wellness benefits of celery seed that first led to its use by humans. While the culinary use of this spice dates back only to the seventeenth century, the seed has a long history as a health supplement.
Over hundreds of years, it has been used to treat joint pains, inflammation, and anxiety. It has even been found in Egyptian tombs, given to the dead as a tonic to keep the soul healthy on its journey through the afterlife. In India, it is still used as a nerve tonic and stimulant.
If you have a problem with high blood pressure, you could well investigate the possibility of throwing out your beta-blockers and other synthetic drugs and instead of adding plenty of celery seed to your daily diet. You may find that it is just as effective in lowering your blood pressure. And, at the same time, it will give a refreshing lift to your favorite recipes.