Celery Seed: What It Is, How to Use, and Substitutes

Celery seed may never be the star of the show, but this spice is mightier than you think. No wonder it’s an essential ingredient in Old Bay seasoning and Bloody Mary cocktails.

A white bowl on a grey plate filled with celery seed spice

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

If you’re cruising the spice aisle, you’ll almost certainly see celery seed wedged between caraway and cinnamon. Or, if you’re somewhere that takes its celery seasonings very seriously, you’ll find it between the celery flakes and celery salt.

What exactly is celery seed and how does it differ from the flakes and the salt? Is it an important spice to keep on hand, and if so, how do you use celery seed?

Celery Seed

Origins: Made from the seeds of wild celery

Flavor: Vegetal, herbal

Usage: Like celery, celery seed provides a great undertone to everything rom potato salad to soups, stews, and seafood dishes

Substitutes: Celery salt (remember to adjust the salt in the recipe!)

What Is Celery Seed?

Celery seed is a spice made from the seeds of wild celery, which grows in marshy conditions and has a stronger flavor than the conventional celery found in the supermarket. The seeds are small, brown in color, and herbal in taste, much like the celery you throw into mirepoix or stack next to chicken wings and a side of blue cheese dip.

You’ll find celery seed in everything from potato salad and seafood dishes to stews, barbecue sauces, and vinaigrettes. It also happens to be one of the ingredients in Old Bay seasoning. No, celery seed may never be the star of the show, but like a good character actor, it’s a key player. You know it when you see (or taste it), and it adds an indisputable je ne sais quoi to all manner of dishes.

White bowl full of celery seed spice next to black spoon

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Celery Seed vs. Celery Salt vs. Celery Flakes

How does celery seed differ from celery flakes or the more common celery salt? As the names suggest, celery seed consists only of seeds, while celery salt contains seeds and salt. Celery flakes are a different matter altogether. This dried herb is made from dehydrated fresh celery.

Whole Celery Seeds vs. Ground Celery Seed

As you might expect, ground celery seed is the powder derived from grinding up whole celery seeds. Use whole seeds in pickle brine or spice rubs, where you’re seeking texture. But be wary that the seeds are quite small, so they could appear sandy or gritty. Using them in combination with another small, whole spice can help. Or, simply reach for ground celery seed, which will impart only flavor, whether you’re adding it into a Bloody Mary or to potato salad.

While you can find ground celery seed in the supermarket, if possible, it’s always best to grind or crush whole spices just before cooking. Buy whole and grind as needed, and your celery powder will have a much stronger impact.

Close up view of celery seed spice

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Substitutes for Celery Seed

If you can’t find celery seeds, celery salt is the go-to substitution. Just season accordingly, since the salt contains, well, you get it. (And vice versa: If you’re substituting celery seed for celery salt, you may need to add extra salt to the recipe.)

How to Store

As with all spices, celery seed will lose its flavor over time, so it’s best to buy in small quantities and refresh within a year. Store in a cool, dry place.

How to Cook with Celery Seed

Use celery seed to impart that grounding, vegetal flavor that celery adds, without the bulk. Just like with celery, it’s a great undertone for so many unsuspecting dishes, from potato salad to soups, stews, and seafood dishes. This little seed is mightier than you might assume.

Celery seed (or celery salt) is also a classic ingredient in a Bloody Mary. Its earthy flavor pairs well with the acidic tomato juice to add depth and savoriness to everyone’s favorite brunch cocktail. In the same vein, celery seed also works well as a flavor in pickle brine.

  • Mix whole celery seeds into a rub for grilled chicken.
  • Sprinkle ground celery seed over shrimp or lobster salad.
  • Dust ground celery over deviled eggs.
  • Whisk whole celery seeds into a salad dressing.
  • Season your bloody Mary with whole celery seed.
  • Pickle vegetables in a brine with whole celery seeds.

To get to know this perhaps underappreciated but no less essential spice, try one of the recipes below. If the recipe calls for celery salt instead of celery seed, swap in celery seed one for one. Just remember to season accordingly and add in a little extra salt if needed.