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Ingredient Spotlight: Celery Versus Celery Root Versus Celeriac

We’re smack-dab in the middle of winter right now, so the majority of fresh vegetables available for cooking are of the root variety. It can be a daunting task to integrate them into your cooking, even more so when you don’t actually know what they are.

Take celery, for example. The stalk is so ubiquitous (and cheap) that it is a staple in kitchens around the world. But what about the seemingly related ingredient celery root. And what is celeriac for that matter?

You’ve likely seen celery root listed on menus or heard it referenced, and wondered whether it’s simply the root of the celery plant we’re all familiar with. You may have even stumbled across celery root in a recipe and been tempted to substitute its more-familiar cousin or ordered a meal with celeriac and wondered what was going to arrive. It can get confusing.

But these are useful, delicious ingredients, which is why we’ve made the differences between celery and celery root the subject of our ingredient spotlight. Get ready to think about these vegetables in a whole new light.

What’s the difference?

This question is why you came here, so why not address it right off the bat? The answer is kind of intuitive, based on the names: The celery that we know and recognize, with the crunchy, green, leafy stalks, is the part of the celery plant that’s visible during the growing process, while the celery root is the portion of the plant below the ground. And ‘celeriac’? It’s just a red herring: It’s another name for celery root.

So they come from the same plant?

Well, yes and no. Every celery plant has both stalks and roots, but you’d be hard pressed to find an intact celery plant at the store (unlike say beets, which you can buy whole and then separate the beet and its greens at home). Both portions of the celery plant are rarely harvested from the same plant. This is because different qualities and traits are favored for the stalk as opposed to the root—a bright crispness for the stalk and a mellow starchiness for the root—so it makes more sense to cultivate them independently as different varieties of the same species of plant.

And what plant is that?

Celery is a member of the Apiacaea family, aromatic plants with hollow stems, placing them in the same category as carrots, dill, fennel, and parsley.

What does celery root/celeriac taste like?

It’s been described as an earthier, nuttier version of the stalks, particularly when caramelized, as that cooking process brings out the ingredient’s natural sweetness.

Does it go by any other names?

To add to the confusion, aside from ‘celeriac,’ celery root is also known as ‘turnip-rooted celery’ or ‘knob celery.’ So if you’re looking for celery root in the store or at a farmer’s market without success, do not worry, you are not alone.

Can I substitute one for the other?

The real difference between celery and celery root is in the texture, so it’s really up to you. Celery itself is of course crunchy, stringy, rich in moisture, and can be eaten essentially as is, or cooked, while the root is more starchy and dense, and requires peeling before it can be consumed. The root is earthier and nuttier by virtue of being in the ground, and produces a deeper flavor in dishes that suggest its use. But as long as you’re prepared for a difference in texture, celery and celery root are close enough in taste that you can substitute one for the other in recipes where consistency is not a focus.

How can I cook celery root?

Treat it like you would any other root vegetable; we recommend roasting celery root as a side dish, like in our Pork Chops With Golden Beets, Celery Root, and Goat Cheese, or adding milk and blending to make a smooth, velvety puree that’s the perfect accompaniment to a hearty main course.

Whether you elect to cook with the stalk or the root (or both!), we hope we’ve opened your eyes to another delicious part of the celery plant that you may have been missing out on.

 

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