Celeriac – What Is This Plant That Is A Good Substitute To Potatoes?

When choosing root vegetables, most people don’t think beyond carrots and radishes. Unique in its looks, delectable in taste, celeriac is extremely easy to grow for all those looking to expand their root vegetable garden.

Celeriac has been popularly used in European cuisine for a long time. Other than Europe, it’s also popular in the Mediterranean region. But what the celeriac plant is, where did it come from, and where does it grow best? Read on to find out the answer to all these questions and a lot more about this intriguing vegetable.

Celeriac, celery root, turnip-rooted celery, and knob celery are the names of the same mandrake-looking plants you might remember from the Harry Potter movies! The botanical name of this plant is Apium graveolens var. rapaceum.

Although celery is cultivated for its stems and shoots, celeriac is cultivated for its fleshy hypocotyl, often confused as the root. Hypocotyl is, in fact, the part of the stem directly above the roots. But both species still belong to the same family, umbellifers in which carrots and parsley also belong. As a side note, remember that you can use the root the same way as you would use potatoes!

Common NameCeleriac
Botanical NameApium Graveolens Var. Rapaceum
Plant TypeBiennial But Grown As An Annual
Size (Fully Grown)1 – 3 Feet High (30 – 91 cm) And 12 – 18 Inches Wide (30 – 46 cm)
Sun ExposurePrefers Full Sun But Also Tolerates Partial Shade
Soil TypeLikes To Grow In A Fertile But Also Moisture-retentive Soil
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 7.0
Flower ColorPale White Or Yellow
U.S. Hardiness ZonesDepending On The Variety, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, And 10
Native AreaMediterranean Basin

How Many Celeriac Varieties Are There?

This weirdly wonderful plant has its origins in the Mediterranean. Still, now we cultivate it throughout the world because of its versatility and flavors it brings to the kitchen. So, that might also be the reason why there are several different varieties you can choose from:

  1. Mars
  2. Prinz
  3. Tellus
  4. Mentor
  5. Brilliant
  6. Diamant
  7. Monarch
  8. Alabaster
  9. Giant Prague
  10. Venice White
  11. Monstorpolgi
  12. Bianco Veneto

Where Does Celeriac Originate From?

Celeriac and celery may look very different from each other, but they’re closely related. They even share the same ancestral background!

Celeriac is a staple food in Europe and has been cultivated there since ancient times. Records exist that the vegetable had medicinal and religious uses in ancient Greek, Egyptian and Italian civilizations.

Since Homer’s Odyssey mentions “selinon” (celeriac in Greek), there’s proof that the vegetable was in use in 800 B.C. But, it wasn’t popular until the advent of the Middle Ages. It was in 1623 that France first recorded the plant as a food crop.

By the end of the 17th century, celeriac was being cultivated in most parts of Europe. But cultivars that were grown back then were very different from what you’ll find today.

Giant Prague, one of the most common cultivars of celeriac grown today, originates from Germany. It was developed in 1871 through selective breeding and was much admired for the superior flavors and ease of cultivation. From Germany, the popularity spread to France and also beyond Europe.

Today, the vegetable is widely cultivated in Europe, North Africa, Southwest Asia, Siberia, North America, and Puerto Rico. North Americans are more familiar with the Diamant cultivar compared to the other celeriac varieties.

What Does Celeriac Look Like?

Celeriac is a vegetable from the celery family that’s grown for its knobby stem. The stem, emerging just above the soil surface, looks much like a disfigured turnip, which is why it’s sometimes also called turnip-rooted celery.

Unlike celery, we harvest it primarily for the bulbous stem rather than the greens. But thankfully, both the stalks and leaves are edible.

Hypocotyl

The hypocotyl is the part of the celeriac plant and the reason why people grow it. The swollen structure, about 4 to 5,5 inches (about 10 to 14 cm) in diameter at the time of harvest, is often mistaken for the plant’s root – which is why it’s called a root vegetable.

Very few people know that it’s the part of its stem just above the roots and below the shoots. Once the roots and stalks are cut off, and the hypocotyl is peeled, its smooth, white interior will reveal itself. You can either blanch it, roast it, mash it, or eat it raw. Lastly, there is the flavor, which is pretty like celery.

Stalks And Leaves

From the hypocotyl, thin, hollow, celery-like stems shoot vertically with a rosette of dark green leaves at the top. The stalks and leaves are also edible and quite flavorsome. Garnish them on soups and casseroles or add them to fresh salads, where it brings an instant appeal.

Flowers

Although we grow celeriac as an annual because we harvest the bulbous hypocotyl at the end of the first growing season, the plant is surprisingly a biennial. If it is allowed to grow for another season, the plant will go to seed during the second year, producing clusters of white or pale yellow flowers.

The flowers grow on an umbel structure with many stems sticking out of a single point with tiny blossoms at the end. The celeriac flowers have a faint aroma, like celery and a similar flavor, and yes, celeriac flowers are also edible! One excellent use for the flowers is to garnish your gourmet dishes with them.

© sebra – stock.adobe.com

In What Kind Of Climate Does Celery Grow Best In?

By now, you should have a clear understanding of what the celeriac plant is. Although it’s one of the less-grown vegetables, it’s not that hard to grow, contrary to what some people believe. It’s a cool-season crop with much the same requirements as celery.

So what kind of climate does this unusual vegetable prefer? Will it grow well in your garden? Find out the type of conditions that suit this vegetable best before you start growing it.

What Temperature Can Celeriac Tolerate?

Celeriac needs a long growing season, taking about 90 to 120 days to come to harvest. Maintain a soil temperature in the range of 60 to 65°F (about 15,5 to 18°C) during this time for optimal growth. If the temperatures are too low, the plant will bolt.

In cold winter regions, celeriac is best grown in spring. In contrast, it’s usually started towards the end of summers in warm-winter areas to mature in winters when the temperatures are optimal.

A temp that is somewhere around 70 to 75°F (about 21 to 24°C) is the ideal temperature for the celeriac seeds to germinate. Since the seeds take a long time to germinate, most gardeners prefer starting it indoors as early as ten weeks before the last expected spring frost.

It can then go into the garden two weeks before the last frost’s scheduled date because these young plants are tolerant of moderate frost.

The Climate

Although the vegetable is less prevalent in the United States than in Europe, it will still grow well in most regions. All it needs are optimal growing temperatures and a few other conditions.

The plant prefers a site with full sun but will also tolerate some shade. Like celery, it will appreciate an organically-rich, moisture-retentive soil with a pH between 6.0 to 7.0.

You can’t expect those thick, fleshy hypocotyls if you don’t feed your celeriac well. Yes, as one might expect from their large, bulbous stems, they’re heavy feeders. Side dressing with compost tea twice a month throughout the growing season will keep them nourished and provide you a flavorful harvest.

When it comes to water needs, they need consistently moist soil. Remember to water them regularly, and keep the topsoil moist because a lack of moisture can halt the growth.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Celeriac?

It may not be the most beautiful vegetable on the planet, but it is, without a doubt, healthy addition to your diet. It’s fair to call it a nutritional powerhouse since it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Plus, it also contains a fair share of antioxidants and is low in calories, making it healthy for your cardiovascular system, as stated in the headline!

But, are there any side effects you should know about? Are there any special conditions in which celeriac consumption should be avoided or checked? Let’s find out.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Some compounds present in celeriac can stimulate contractions in pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, keep your celeriac consumption under check, or, better yet, avoid it. As for breastfeeding women, celeriac poses no harm. It’s, in fact, a nutrient-rich package, highly beneficial for most individuals.

Children

Rich in fibers and Vitamin B9, celeriac is a very healthy vegetable you can offer to your children. For example, cooked and pureed celeriac is the best way to serve it to 6-months (and up), old babies.

People With Allergies

People with pollen-related allergies are often allergic to celeriac. Allergic symptoms usually result from raw celeriac consumption and can cause swelling of your lips, throat, and tongue.

People With Diabetes

Because celeriac contains plenty of vitamins (K and C, for example) while also being low in sugar and calories, it’s an excellent addition to your diet if you have diabetes. And best of all, celeriac can help keep your blood sugar levels in check.

The plant also contains fewer carbs than potatoes, so if you’re looking for an alternative, you’ve found one!

Other Medical Conditions

There are certain medical conditions in which its consumption needs to be avoided. Those on blood clotting medications like warfarin should avoid taking celeriac since it’s high in Vitamin K, impacting blood clots.

Also, people taking diuretics and those with kidney problems should avoid this vegetable in their diet.

Pets

The celeriac plant is safe for pets. So if you have pets in your house, you can grow celeriac without any concerns. It’s as nutritious to cats and dogs as it is to us. But, offer it in small amounts only; excessive consumption of this veggie can cause gas in your pets.

Featured image credit – © elvan74 – stock.adobe.com

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