Celery is a common vegetable that most people are familiar with. The long, green stalks are widely used for cooking and eating raw. However, the leaves at the top often get discarded. This leads to the question – why do we not eat celery leaves?
Here are some quick answers to why celery leaves are not commonly eaten:
- The leaves have a stronger, more bitter taste than the stalks.
- Many people find the texture of celery leaves unpleasant or tough to chew.
- Celery stalks are naturally milder and contain less fiber.
- Celery leaves are not as widely available in grocery stores.
- There is less history and culinary tradition around eating celery leaves.
The Flavor and Texture of Celery Leaves
One of the main reasons celery leaves are not eaten as often is their distinct flavor and texture. Celery stalks have a mild, refreshing taste. The leaves tend to be much stronger tasting, with bitter, herbal notes. Some people describe the flavor as similar to parsley but more intense. The bold flavor of the leaves can be overpowering in dishes or when eaten raw by itself.
In addition to the robust flavor, celery leaves have a tougher, more fibrous texture than the stalks. The leaves are thicker and chewier, while the stalks are famously crisp and juicy. The stringy, chewy quality of celery leaves makes them less pleasant to eat raw for many people.
Celery Leaf Flavor Compounds
The distinct taste of celery leaves comes from their unique makeup of flavor compounds and essential oils. This includes:
- Phenylpropenes – Provide fragrant, spicy, herbal notes
- Phthalides – Give a bitter, earthy taste
- Flavonoids – Contribute bitter, astringent qualities
- Sesquiterpenes – Add a woody, spicy aroma
These oils are present throughout the celery plant but tend to concentrate more densely in the leaves. The stalks contain higher amounts of milder tasting compounds like limonene, giving them their lighter, cleaner flavor.
Leaf Fiber Content
In addition to flavor oils, celery leaves contain significantly more fiber than their stalks. Leaves have a fibrous cell structure and are composed of thicker, tougher cell walls. The higher fiber content contributes to the stringy, chewy texture that some find unappealing.
|Fiber per 100g
The leaves contain over twice as much fiber per gram as the stalks. This dense fiber is what gives the leaves their distinct mouthfeel.
Availability and Culinary Traditions
Beyond flavor and texture, another reason celery leaves are not as widely eaten comes down to availability and food traditions.
Celery stalks are sold year-round in most grocery stores. They are available pre-washed and ready to eat with no additional prep needed. Meanwhile, bunches sold with leaves intact are less common. Leaves are more perishable and have a shorter shelf life than the stalks.
There are also fewer culinary traditions built around celery leaves in many cultures. Stalks have been part of recipes for centuries, while the leaves have primarily been treated as an unused byproduct. With less availability and cultural familiarity around leaves, it follows that they would be eaten less frequently.
Celery Leaf Use in Food Traditions
While not as widely eaten as stalks, celery leaves do see some use in various food cultures:
- Italy – Used in soups and sauces. Also used as a seasoning.
- China – Sometimes mixed with stalks and leaves in stir-fries.
- France – Added to stocks, soups, and stews.
- Middle East – Chopped leaves mixed into tabbouleh salad.
The leaves tend to appear more often in cooked dishes rather than raw. This allows their flavor to blend into other ingredients. But the leaves have not become a staple ingredient anywhere in the same way celery stalks have.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Beyond taste and texture, another consideration is the nutritional value and health benefits of celery leaves versus stalks. Though not eaten as often, celery leaves are very nutritious.
Vitamins and Minerals
Celery leaves are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. These include:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
The leaves contain higher amounts of these nutrients than the stalks. For example, a 100g serving of leaves contains about 150% more vitamin A and double the calcium versus stalks.
Celery leaves also contain beneficial plant compounds like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins. These act as antioxidants in the body to reduce inflammation and cell damage. Studies suggest antioxidants in celery promote heart and liver health.
As discussed earlier, celery leaves are a great source of dietary fiber. The insoluble fiber they provide may help reduce cholesterol, improve gut health, and aid digestion. Though the texture of this fiber makes the leaves chewier, it offers more nutritional benefits than the stalks.
Overall, while celery stalks make a healthy, low-calorie snack, the leaves pack an even greater nutrient punch. The leaves have potential to be more nutritious than the vegetable’s more famous stalks.
Preparing and Eating Celery Leaves
While celery leaves may be passed over by many people, they offer a unique flavor and nutrition profile. For those interested in making use of this vegetable byproduct, there are simple ways to start incorporating celery leaves into recipes.
Tenderizing the Leaves
To soften the texture and mellow the taste of celery leaves, there are a few easy preparation methods:
- Blanching – Quickly boiling then cooling the leaves can reduce chewiness.
- Massaging – Kneading and crushing helps tenderize the leaves.
- Brining – Soaking leaves in salted water helps soften fiber.
Chopping the leaves finely after tenderizing also makes them less fibrous and stringy when eating.
Some easy ways to start cooking with celery leaves include:
- Saute into stir-fries, stews, and soups.
- Blend into smoothies, juices, and green drinks.
- Mix into compound butters for slathering on bread.
- Add to omelets, frittatas, and scrambled eggs.
- Puree into pesto, sauces, hummus.
Cooking the leaves mellows their potent flavor. Start with small amounts mixed into recipes until you adjust to the stronger taste.
For eating celery leaves raw, try:
- Finely chop and add to salad for a nutrient boost.
- Use like a herb and garnish completed dishes.
- Juice leaves with sweeter fruits and vegetables.
When eating celery leaves raw, gradually increase the portion as the taste can be overpowering. Soaking in ice water for an hour can also mellow raw flavor.
Celery leaves deserve a second look when it comes to nutrition and adding flavor to recipes. While the leaves may be harder, more bitter tasting, and less familiar than stalks to many people, they still have much to offer. With some simple preparation methods and creative ways to incorporate these nutritious leaves into dishes, it’s possible to get more mileage out of this under-appreciated part of the celery plant.