Savory and slightly earthy, salty and a little something extra akin to umami, celery salt adds an interesting complexity to my morning meal.
Celery salt is something that has always confused me. Is it salt flavored with celery? Is it salt made out of celery? What exactly does it do and where does it come from? I’ve seen it as an ingredient on meat labels claiming to be naturally cured (the meat, not the labels). And recently I had a conversation with a chef who uses it as an in-house preservative. Here I thought it was just interesting to sprinkle on my lentil patties.
In researching celery salt, I’ve found a mix of information and articles identifying what it actually is and how to use it. This sort of just added to my confusion (apparently I’m not the only one confused, so that’s good). Some articles say it is a mixture of sea salt and ground celery seed, while others have suggested it is actually a mixture of ground celery seed and dried/powdered celery juice. The celery salt that I used this morning was a finely powdered blend of sea salt and celery seed. Although, now that I’ve researched it more thoroughly I am interested to try making my own celery salt just from the seeds and juice.
So, it turns out celery salt /powder is a naturally occurring preservative due to the sodium content and the fact that it contains naturally occurring sodium nitrates. But wait! Aren’t nitrates bad for you? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. Nitrates and nitrites are both naturally occurring in many fruits, veggies, and even meats once they are cooked. So, it’s virtually impossible to avoid them if you are eating real food. And believe or not, nitrites and nitrates in the right amount are helpful to the body. Who knew??? The nitrate/nitrite combination in the form of nitric oxide helps the nutrients in our food assimilate by assisting in crossing the blood/tissue barrier. Now when these naturally occurring substances end up in a too high of an amount and our body is very acidic, they then can become dangerous and carcinogenic because the convert to something called a nitrosamine. So, why do nitrates/nitrites get such a bad rap? Well, according to independent studies, non-naturally occurring preservatives, meaning those formulated in a lab somewhere, do not have the same helpful impact on the body that naturally occurring ones do. According to two recent studies, the frankennitrates, convert immediately to nitrosamines.
Back to our celery salt discussion... so, celery salt is indeed a natural preservative, one that is apparently beneficial to the body in the right conditions and right amounts. According to the data, your best bet is to consume celery salt that is actually just from celery, without the addition of sea salt. This provides a better mineral balance of not only sodium, but also potassium and magnesium.
From a culinary perspective, I would absolutely avoid purchasing celery salt unless you have full disclosure of ingredients. They often include anti-caking agents and other things that are better left out of your real food pantry. You can make celery powder or celery salt several ways; grind some celery seeds to a fine powder and mix in with sea salt; definitely, a delicious option. You can also dehydrate parts of celery, then grind them to a powder, and even add some finely ground seed. If you add celery powder or salt to things that you are pickling or curing, it will preserve the color. This is one reason meats that are preserved naturally with celery salt keep their pink color and look so “fresh”.
From a health perspective, well, I think we’ve already pretty much covered that... celery salt or powder can be a healthful addition to your dietary repertoire when consumed in moderation.