Celery seed is the seed of plant closely related to celery, cultivated specifically for its aromatic, flavorful seeds. It can be found as an ingredient in spice mixes all over the world and is also available plain in whole and ground form. Like other plants in the Apiaceae family, celery seed has a strong celery like flavor and aroma, with a faint hint of spiciness. Most grocers stock it, and it can also be ordered online, although consumers who plan to eat it should make sure to order the food-grade product.
India, China, and France all cultivate celery seed, which appears to have originated in the Middle East. The small, brown, crescent shaped seeds are often included in pickling mixes or added to dressings, soups, breads, and a wide assortment of other foods. They add the unique flavor of celery to foods without the bulk or the undesired crunch of the vegetable. In many cases, it is used whole so that the seeds explode in the mouth when they are bitten into, creating a burst of flavorful volatile oils.
Ground celery seed is used in things like celery salt and other spice mixes. French cuisine often incorporates this spice, as does Cajun cuisine. The ground seed is also available on its own, so that cooks can make their own spice mixes. Like other spices, the ground or whole seeds should be kept in a cool dry place and used within six months for the best flavor. Ideally, cooks should purchase whole seeds, grinding them as needed.
It is possible to grow celery seed at home, in any place where celery will grow. Like celery, it requires a long, cool growing season, with partial sun exposure. The plant is not frost tolerant, and it prefers moist, potassium-rich soil. It also requires periodic fertilization, in the form of compost or manure, along with well drained soil.
These seeds look a lot like cumin seeds, so they can be easily confused. Cooks can avoid mixing them up by become familiar with the scent of both spices, and their slightly different shapes. In addition, labeling spices clearly is always a good idea. Spice labels should include the date that the spice was purchased, so that the cook knows when it may no longer be good.