Celery seed is a spice used in salads, sauces, dressings, brines, and dry rubs. It's available in whole seed and ground. In its whole form, it's a small seed, about the size of a poppy seed, with a dark brown color. When ground it is a fine, dark greenish-brown powder.
What is Celery Seed?
Celery seed the spice is made of the seeds of wild celery, which is related to the conventional celery found in supermarkets.
The stalks and leaves of wild celery have a stronger flavor than common celery, so the wild variety is typically only used as the source of seeds for celery seed spice. Although they are tiny, celery seeds are in fact the whole, dried fruit of the wild celery plant.
Celery Seed Vs. Celery Salt
Another celery-based spice you will typically find in the spice aisle is something called celery salt, and although this often contains celery seed, the two are not the same thing.
Celery salt is simply a spice blend consisting of two parts salt and one part ground celery seed (although it is sometimes made using an equivalent amount of dried and ground celery root or celery leaves). Celery salt is is a standard ingredient in the traditional Bloody Mary recipe and it is also a great addition to everything from potato salad and cole slaw to popcorn, french fries, and corn on the cob.
Another spice made from celery is dried celery flakes, which is usually made of dehydrated celery root or celery stalks.
Whole Vs. Ground
The powdered version of celery seed is produced by grinding the seeds, which can make it easier to work with in sauces or smoothies, or any other instance where you might not want the crunch of whole seeds.
Ground celery seed is available in the spice sections at the grocery store. But because grinding it causes the volatile oils in the seeds to evaporate rather quickly, if you want to use ground celery seed, you're better off purchasing whole celery seed and grinding it in a spice grinder at home. Whole celery seed will retain its peak flavor for up to six months, and about half that (or less) for the ground version.
What Does it Taste Like?
Celery seed tastes a lot like celery, with the same aromatic and astringent quality in raw stalks of the celery plant. In addition, the seeds have a savory, earthy character as well as a bitter flavor which increases when the spice is used in its ground form as opposed to whole. An excess amount of celery seed can, because of its astringency (think mustard or onion), impart a sensation similar to hotness.
Cooking With Celery Seed
Like celery itself, celery seed happens to pair well with tomatoes. That means it's common to use celery seed in preparations that feature tomatoes, whether it's Bloody Marys, barbecue sauce, or homemade ketchup.
Whole celery seed is also used in brine and pickling spice blends as well as marinades. In general, the powdered form is preferable for preparations that need to be smooth, like ketchup. The whole form is preferable in most other cases, including in dry rubs and dressings. Ground celery seed can be more bitter than the whole form.
Recipes With Celery Seed
As noted before, celery seed is often included as part of recipes that feature tomatoes, including drinks, sauces, soups and salads.
Depending on which aspect of the celery seed you are looking to reproduce, there are a couple of feasible substitutions. To replicate the celery flavor of celery seed, substitute dried celery flakes. If it's the slight crunchy texture of the whole seed you're after, substitute whole coriander seed, which are a bit larger than celery seeds and will also impart some warm, nutty, citrusy flavors. Whole dill seed is another substitute.