When you think of celery, you might imagine it as a classic addition to summer cocktails like a Bloody Mary.
It serves as a perfect vehicle for delicious dips such as hummus, guacamole, and baba ganoush. And you can even top it with peanut butter and raisins for that classic ants on a log snack.
This food has a perfect crunch, slightly salty flavor, and can be used in tons of ways in the kitchen, making it a popular addition to shopping lists across the nation.
But you may be wondering, is celery a vegetable or a fruit? Celery is a vegetable belonging to the Apiaceae family, which includes carrots, parsnips, parsley, and celeriac. Its leaves are considered an herb, while its stalks are used in a variety of culinary applications.
Read on to discover more about what constitutes a fruit or a vegetable, what kind of vegetable celery is, and how to best use it in the kitchen to bring out its flavors and improve your cooking.
What Is A Vegetable?
Vegetables have a broader definition than fruits do because they can be made up of so many parts of the plant.
Basically, a good way to figure out if something is a vegetable is to exclude it as a fruit, which would mean it is not the specific ovary or fruiting body of the plant designed for reproduction.
When classifying vegetables, they can be stalks, such as rhubarb and lovage. You can also have vegetables that are made of leaves, like cabbage and lettuce.
Some vegetables fall under the root or tuber categories like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets.
Other vegetable classifications include asparagus, which would be a stem, and vegetative or flowering buds that include things like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower.
If you think about all of these vegetables, none of them contain seeds since they come from another part of the plant. So, yes, celery is a vegetable, specifically a stalk similar to rhubarb and lovage.
What Is A Fruit?
It is pretty common for us to classify fruits and vegetables based on whether they are sweet or savory, but there is actually a botanical definition that separates them.
When it comes to defining a plant as a fruit, technically we are talking about the mature, ripened ovary of the plant.
Often, this ovary grows out of a flower blossom and matures into the edible fruiting part of the plant. These ovaries contain the seeds that are required for the plant to reproduce and create more plants.
An easy rule of thumb to decide if a food is a fruit or a vegetable is to check to see if it contains any seeds. If there are visible seeds, then chances are it is technically a fruit.
Fruits are designed to be enticing so birds and animals will eat them and spread the seeds.
Based on this definition of a fruit, celery does not fit into this category at all. When you eat a celery stalk or celery leaves, there are no visible or edible seeds contained within these parts.
The seeds come later, after the plant bolts. This happens when the plant turns its focus to seed production. At this point you will see a central stalk become taller. If it remains in the ground, it will flower and produce seeds.
What Does Celery Taste Like?
Celery can be a polarizing vegetable where people either love it or hate it. In fact, if you search “what does celery taste like,” one of the first alternative searches that comes up is “why does celery taste so bad?”
Whether you love it or hate it, celery is a staple in the kitchen. This stalk vegetable has a pretty distinct flavor. Somehow it is simultaneously mild and strong at the same time.
It has a slightly astringent taste and is earthy like kale and lettuce. Compared to other vegetables, celery naturally contains a bit more sodium (salt).
It also has a very distinct texture, which is what most people dislike about it. Celery stalks can be quite stringy, super crisp and crunchy, and very watery. Some people like to shave the stringy parts off the back of the celery before they eat it, which can help improve the texture.
If you’re not a fan of raw celery, then you might want to try it cooked, since this can deepen and improve the flavor and texture. Before you throw it on the “no” pile, give it a try in a couple of different dishes.
Best Ways To Use Celery In The Kitchen
Now that we’re clear on whether celery is a vegetable or a fruit, we can look at some of the best and most delicious ways to use celery in the kitchen.
As a vegetable, it is most often used in savory applications since it has an inherent saltiness.
Some classic ways to use celery in the kitchen include:
- As a base for soups, stocks, and broths. In French cuisine, celery makes up one-third of what is known as mirepoix. This mixture combines celery, onions, and carrots that are cooked or roasted in butter or oil as the first step in many dishes.
- Mirepoix provides a base flavor in many dishes and helps to layer in complexity. We like to add garlic to the mix to bring it up another level.
- Roasting or sauteing the mirepoix before adding your next ingredients deepens the flavor even further and can help you take your dish from just ok to incredible.
- As a vehicle for dips and sauces. Celery sticks make a perfect little boat for scooping up dips and sauces such as hummus, guacamole, baba ganoush, spinach dip, ranch dressing, and any other sauce or dip that you enjoy.
- Wash and cut your celery into 1-2-inch pieces and then store in a plastic or glass container in the fridge. Cover with water to keep them crisp and fresh for several days!
- As a garnish for cocktails. Celery has a natural saltiness and crunch that makes it a perfect addition to a summer cocktail like a Bloody Mary or Caesar. To take it to the next level, you can even try pickling your celery stalks for an extra hit of sour saltiness.
- Fill celery with peanut butter and raisins. Ants on a log is a classic snack for a reason. The rich peanut butter and sweet raisins are a perfect complement to the slightly salty and crunchy texture of celery. This snack isn’t just for kids, since it is filling and packed with nutrition.
- Make a celery gratin. Any food is going to be exponentially improved by adding cheese, and celery is no exception. Try using celery to make a delicious au gratin, traditionally made with potatoes. The crunchy, salty texture goes great with the creaminess of the cheese.
- Cream of celery soup. One of our favorite types of soup is a cream of celery soup. The distinct celery flavor is really highlighted and enhanced by the addition of cream, garlic, salt, and onions. Try searching for a recipe to try this fall.
- Add it to a Waldorf salad. This classic salad is made up of lettuce, celery, apples, grapes, walnuts, mayonnaise, lemon juice, sugar, and salt. If you’ve got some extra celery on hand, try whipping up this classic for your next potluck, picnic, or barbecue.
- Try braising your celery for a softer side. By its nature, celery is a crunchy vegetable, but if you’re looking for its softer side, try giving it a braise. You can use ciders, stocks, herbs, and spices to create a flavorful braised side dish for your next roast dinner.
- As a component in a fresh juice. Celery juice became super popular a couple of years ago and while I’m not a huge fan of plain celery juice, I do love it added to a mix.
- I will often juice together celery, beets, apples, kale, lemon, mint, and cucumber for a refreshing and flavorful summer drink.
As you have learned, celery is a delicious and versatile stalk vegetable that can be used cooked or raw in the kitchen depending on your preference.
If you’re not a fan of raw celery, try one of the above recipes such as a creamy soup or cheesy gratin and you might be surprised at the result.
Do you have a favorite way to enjoy celery? Let us know how you use this vegetable in your kitchen below.