Celeriac may not be the most beautiful of foods. It’s wrinkled, brown, slightly hairy, and slightly bulbous. It looks like the sort of thing you’d cut off and throw away when harvesting celery. It is, after all, the root of the plant.
Celeriac shouldn’t be discounted, however. It has been harvested for centuries and has a solid place in European cuisine. If you’ve never had this bizarre root, however, you might have some apprehension about what celeriac tastes like.
Celery root, or celeriac, has a mild celery-like freshness, with a bit of the peppery flavor expected from the vegetable. Since it is a root, it is earthy, and just a little sweet.
What Does Celeriac Taste Like
What Is Celeriac?
Despite the unique name, celeriac is just celery root. It is the base of the crunchy plant that grows from it. Specifically, celery is the stem of the plant. You might find celery root that is still attached to the celery itself. Or, you might see it at a farmer’s market already detached and cleaned. It will likely just be called celery root instead of celeriac.
Celeriac might have been referenced in Homer’s Odyssey, depending on the translation being studied. That means it’s been recorded as a tasty cuisine as far back as 800 B.C.E. At that time, it was referred to as selinon, and was widely cultivated through Europe by the Middle Ages.
This bulbous delicacy is a root vegetable. That puts it in a similar classification to onions and turnips. Because of that, the flavor has been described as being something similar to a turnip, albeit a bit milder.
Earthiness comes through rather distinctly in the way celeriac tastes, but there’s a certain freshness to it as well.
Though celeriac has a long shelf life (usually 6 to 8 months if stored in the fridge and kept moist), leaving it too long will diminish the flavor. The fresher a celeriac root is, the more apparent the celery taste will be.
When Picked Early
Lately, it has become rather trendy to pick celery, and thus celeriac, early. What is defined as ‘early’ is before the hypocotyl (or, the part of the stem of a plant beneath the stalk but above the root) is still smaller than 4 – 5 ½ in/ 10 – 14 cm. Peruvian cuisine in particular has taken to harvesting celeriac early.
When it is picked early, the vegetable is tender, and much more intense in flavor. The flavor is earthen and slightly sweet.
The outside texture of celeriac is bumpy, rough, and knobby. When cooking, you will always want to cut off the outer skin of the root and give it a thorough wash.
When cut into, celeriac is pale whitish in color. There are many ways to eat it; it can be blanched, shredded, roasted, stewed, and more. Between being raw or cooked, the texture will change significantly.
Cooked celery root has a tender, slightly chewy texture. It can be mashed, similar to a potato, and can be paired well into any number of smooth, creamy dishes. It has been said, in fact, that celeriac behaves somewhat like a potato when cooked. The only difference is that it is noticeably less starchy.
It can be roasted, to give it crispy edges and a tender middle, or stewed to make it almost fall apart. The flavor does not change much when it is cooked this way. Especially in soups, it can be used as a substitute for celery.
If using a spiralizer, you can even make noodles out of celeriac. The texture of celeriac noodles is similar to that of other vegetable noodles, specifically zucchini. It’s soft and tender as you’d like a pasta noodle to be, with just a bit of crunch.
A famous recipe that uses celeriac is one supplied by Julia Child. In her recipe for celery root remoulade, she writes: “Underneath the brown, wrinkled exterior of celery root there is white flesh with a bright celery flavor and crisp texture that, when finely shredded, makes a delicious slaw like salad.”
It’s true that raw celeriac is crisp and crunchy. Think of the fresh, crisp feeling of biting into a crunchy, cold, raw cabbage leaf. Because of this, it is often found as a garnish in high-end eating establishments.
Aside from being perhaps a bit earthy when it is straight out of the ground, celeriac does not have much of a smell. At best, it will smell somewhat like celery, which is also very mild in aroma. When celeriac gets older, it will have no smell at all.
Celeriac is rather nutritious, just like celery is. It’s full of vitamins and is a great source of potassium and antioxidants. It is also rich in fiber, which aids in digestion.
The antioxidants and fiber in celeriac make it perfect as an anti-inflammatory food. Those who suffer from gastrointestinal issues will find it easy on the stomach and easily digestible. It could also aid in the prevention of colon cancer, and can possibly help in the fight against heart disease.
It is also high in vitamin C, making it great for your immune system. If you’re looking to give your homemade chicken soup an extra boost of beneficial vitamins, add a bit of celeriac to the mix.
While the name may seem intimidating, something that is not helped by the rough exterior, celeriac is actually rather delicious. It is incredibly versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, it makes an excellent slaw, garnish, or addition to a salad. Cooked, it can be mashed, boiled, stewed, and used in any number of ways that you’d also use a potato.
Celeriac tastes like celery, with a more earthy, muted tone. The sweetness of it can be emphasized when it’s cooked. Celeriac that was picked early will have an even more intense flavor and a more tender texture. Some of the peppery taste that you’d find in celery is present, and it has been compared to a turnip in terms of tastes.