Celery is that well known strong tasting vegetable, commonly thought to contain fewer calories than the energy used to consume it. Made up mostly of water, it’s amazing that this unassuming green food stuff is so widely used for its crunchy leafy stalks, root and seeds in food flavourings across the world. Celery is part of the carrot family, plants having flowers in umbels, also including parsley, anise, caraway and dill.
Celery allergy seems to be far more common in central Europe, mainly France, Switzerland and Germany, and less so in the UK and US, where peanut allergy is the most common. It is one of the small number of foods, the biggest being peanut, that appear to provoke the most severe allergic reactions; for people with celery allergy, exposure can cause potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
Cooking celery does not destroy the proteins which cause the allergic reaction. Celery root, commonly eaten as celeriac, or put into drinks, is known to contain more allergen than the stalk, however the seeds contain the highest levels of allergen content. Dried celery or spice is also highly allergenic and likely to cause a reaction if a person is sensitive to raw celery. Exercise-induced anaphylaxis may be exacerbated and an allergic reaction can be triggered by eating foods that have been processed with machines that have previously processed celery, making avoiding such foods difficult. For this reason celery is noted on allergy labelling with as much importance as peanut.
Allergy to celery seems to be linked to people with seasonal hay fever to birch and/or mugwort pollen (usually March/April). This is called cross-reaction and is often an important cause of food allergies.
Celery allergy due to cross-reactivity occurs at certain times of the year, i.e when the pollen of the wormwood plants and birch trees trigger celery allergy as they have similar cell structure to the celery plant.
Read Alex Gazzola’s interesting article, Oral Allergy Syndrome
From Bacon Wizard, Jasper Ackroyd on the Foods Matter website, celery also contains high levels of nitrate, even more than is found in bacon, so it is often used as a “flavour”, a great way for food manufacturers to get large amounts of nitrate into the recipe undetected and undeclared.
There are also phenols, or natural chemicals called apigenins in celery. Whilst these are thought to have good effects on the body for some people, it could be these that trigger allergic reactions to celery in others.
How to spot the symptoms of celery allergy
The first signs of an allergic reaction are usually a tingling and itching sensation of the mouth, lips, throat and tongue, a minute or two after eating celery. Symptoms including raised bumps and itching, can also spread to the face and eyelids; the skin rash, along with hives, swelling and eczema is another symptom.
Extreme swelling of the throat may cause constriction of the airways, which can result in breathing difficulties, asthma, sneezing, coughing and wheezing. The allergic reactions might also include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and stomach cramping. In severe situations, patient suffer from anaphylaxis with various symptoms like rapid pulse, sudden drop in blood pressure, confusion, slurred speech and loss of consciousness. If not treated swiftly and correctly with adrenalin and hospital admission it may even result in death.
Which foods contain celery?
Celery can be hidden in many food stuffs, and not just the obvious salads, sandwiches and soups. It is often used in stocks, stock cubes and gravy, ready meals, sauces, crisp flavouring and spice mixes. It is often used in oriental cooking as a flavour enhancer. It is very difficult to avoid celery in restaurants as it’s not commonly listed in menu ingredients and can be found hidden in so many things.
Top 5 lifesaving celery free cupboard essentials
- Celery free soup – There are a couple of brands of tinned soup that don’t contain celery. So far I’ve discovered the Free & Easy range, Suma and Look What We Found Pea and Ham soup. This latter is by far my favourite at the moment. It’s got big bits of ham in it and is almost as tasty as home made soup.
- The Free & Easy range includes Leek and Potato and Green pea.
- Leak and Potato – Ingredients: water, potato 13%, leek 8%, red lentils, onions, sunflower oil, sea salt and pepper
- Green pea – Ingredients: water, peas 24%, corn syrup, sunflower oil, sea salt, parsley, black pepper.
Watch out though, their parsnip soup, though sometimes not labelled, does contain celery in the vegetable bouillon. Ingredients: Water, Parsnips (14%) Red Lentils (4.8%) Onions, Rice Flour, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Bouillon (Sea Salt, Yeast Extract, Rice Flour, Palm Oil, Onion, Celery, Carrot, Parsley, Turmeric, Sea Salt). Sometimes this parsnip soup only says ‘vegetable bouillon’ on the ingredients and doesn’t list out the actual things in it.
- Look What We Found Pea and Ham soup ingredients:(NO LONGER AVAILABLE) – Water, Peas (33%), Onion, Gammon (6%), Potato, Vegetable Stock, Olive Oil, Garlic, Sea Salt, Black Pepper.
I asked ‘Look what we found’ about the vegetable stock and they told me it contained the following: vegetable concentrates (carrot, onion, and leek), water, salt, spice.
It’s just so tasty. Try it! I promise you won’t be disappointed. To find out more read a blog post dedicated just to this lovely soup, “Look what we found – gluten, dairy, celery and tomato free soup”
- Suma soups – More details on Suma soup ingredients to follow shortly… but they do a few that are tomato and celery free.
- Marigold celery free stock cubes – The only stock cubes I’ve found that don’t contain celery are Marigold Organic Swiss vegetable bouillon. These are great because they are gluten free (although they do contain maltodextrin), dairy free, soya free, yeast free and tomato free. Brilliant!
Ingredients: sea salt, palm oil, vegetables 13.5% – (onion, carrot, parsley), maltodextrin, spices (mace, lovage, turmeric, bayleaf, pepper). These are really tasty but I often use two as they are not as strong as normal stock cubes.
- Free&Easy celery free gravy sauce mix – Again, the only gravy granules sauce mix I’ve found that do not contain celery is Free & Easy Gluten Free vegetable gravy sauce mix. It’s also free from dairy, tomatoes, gluten, yeast…
Ingredients: brown rice flour, cornstarch, hydrolysed vegetable protein, extract of roasted barley malt, powdered onion, sea salt and ground pepper.
This product is guaranteed gluten free too.
BEWARE: Some Marigold stock cubes DO contain celery. It’s just this green pack that don’t. I checked with the manufacturers and this is what they said: “There is no celery in the Green box yeast free gluten free Marigold Cubes. The other two cubes – Red box and Low Salt Purple box – do contain celery. Re cross contamination – our Swiss manufacturers clean their highly sophisticated machinery between production runs, so there is no cross contamination.”
Do you have a sensitivity to celery? I’ve had exercise induced anaphylaxis now on two occasions where I’m sure I didn’t consume dairy or nuts (my usual triggers) and now, having researched this food allergy I’m wondering whether on those occasions it could have been caused by celery. I can’t exactly confirm what time of year these reactions occurred but they could well have been during the birch pollen hay fever season. Since I found many references to it being linked to exercise induced anaphylaxis it’s a strong possibility as it’s hidden in so many things.
I’d love to hear from anyone else with this allergy, or anyone who has found any other brilliant celery free products.
Although a celery allergy would seem unusual to many people, if you feel you’re experiencing the symptoms above it may be important to try and receive a diagnosis or treatment for allergy testing by visiting one of the local private hospitals in London.