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Choosing the best celery requires considering its type, cultivation method, and physical qualities. Two main types are available, and though the stalk version works well in fresh dishes, the leafy variety is best for soups and stews. Organic bunches also offer more nutrients and fewer pesticides, unlike conventional alternatives. Typically, the healthiest bunches are crisp and vibrant, with no discoloring or spotting. Choosing a variety to grow also depends on factors like ease of cultivation and climate.
Stalk celery is the most common in the United States and is named for its thick, tough stems and sparse foliage. Leaf celery, however, has a stronger flavor and wilder look, with plenty of leaves and smaller, thinner stems. While the stalk type is typically a better choice for fresh salads or raw dishes, the leaf variety infuses strong flavor into soups and stews. Rare varieties are sometimes available at farmers markets, each with a subtle difference in texture or flavor.
Despite what variety you choose, there are several factors to note when choosing the highest quality celery. Organic bunches typically offer more nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts, which may also have a high level of pesticides in comparison to other produce. In most cases, the organic version costs a bit more, but may be of better quality, and usually, taste.
When choosing a specific bunch, several characteristics should be noted. The stems should be crisp, not rubbery, and leaves perky and vibrant green. Stalks shouldn't fan out much, and brown or black spotting or coloring on their undersides points to insect damage. To avoid taking home a bitter-tasting celery, look to see if there is a rounded stem in the center of the bunch; healthy celery should have several thin stalks in the center instead.
If you're thinking about growing this green vegetable in your home garden, there are several considerations to make before choosing seed. Leaf celery is typically easier to grow than the stalk varieties. The latter, however, are typically hardier and can survive some frosts if covered in cardboard and soil. Different varieties also have varying growing times. For instance, French Dinant soup celery takes about 110 days to ready for harvest, while Giant Red, a stalk variety, takes about 85 to 95.