Celebrated celery seeds aren’t seeds at all. They’re a fruit! They bring the aroma and a nuttier celery flavor to foods without the acids or bitterness of celery juice, along with color and, at times, crunch!
Celery seeds have a wonderfully fresh and green flavor that makes a lovely addition to seasoning rubs and vegetables. They’re really a small dried fruit, rather than “seeds,” and they don’t come from vegetable celery but a cousin, apium graveolens, known in ancient Greece and Rome as “smallage.”
Celery without its juice, and acids, can be a very subtle grassy, mildly sweet, slightly bitter flavor that lends itself beautifully as a balance to savories in recipes. Celery seeds yield a valuable volatile oil called apiole, also used in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries. They are small enough to be used whole, or ground. Small in size, they are big in flavor, because they concentrate more of the apiole oil, so use sparingly!
Celery seed is common to many cuisines around the world. Their Mediterranean origins, and favor with dominant cultures in Greece, and Rome, saw them exported across Northern Europe and North Africa, and, eventually into Asia, and the Americas. Today the majority is produced in India, and China.
It was used medicinally as far back as 850 B.C., and was popularized by the Greeks and Romans. The Greeks considered it holy, and the plant found its way into use in the early Olympic games. The Romans, on the other hand, thought of it as a bad omen. Finding it in a field before a battle was considered bad luck, which then extended into popular cultural myth about the plant bringing bad luck, and funerals. That wasn’t enough to stop chefs from using the fruits of the plant in cooking. Celery seed has its “roots” in Roman and early Italian cuisine.
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