Four weeks. Thirteen packages of celery stored. What worked best for TipBusters?
Was it Cook’s Illustrated’s recommendation to store celery in foil? Was it WHFoods’ recommendation to seal it in a container, damp cloth or plastic bag? Was it storing it in water?
First of all, I want to emphasize what did not work for us, because it’s all over the Internet as a great way to store celery: storing it upright in a container with a couple inches of water in the bottom. Sure, it worked great at first. Nice, crisp celery. Then it started getting overly big. Weirdly big. Then it went limp, with yellow, shrivelled tops. I almost felt cruel storing it this way. On top of that, it took up room in an awkward location in the fridge. The tall area in the bottom; right where the milk and juice eyed it with disdain. Just don’t do it.
Let’s set the scene first. Although I bought bunches of celery, I cut off the ends with a sharp knife before storage. This was for a couple reasons. One: convenience. I don’t know the size of your crisper drawer, but mine is just a bit too small to take the whole bunch, unless I jam it in awkwardly. Two: sometimes we just buy celery stalks; the storage method has to work for all celery.
Even if you buy precut stalks, still trim the ends with a sharp knife before storage. Why? Celery has an incredibly efficient system of drawing water up through its cells, but the cells at the bottom of the stalk must be in good condition for this to happen. In fact, some pre-cut celery stalks will store very poorly unless cut; perhaps the original cutting was done with a dull blade or a chopping mechanism that crushes the cells; if not trimmed, these stalks tend to split, curl, brown and decompose quickly.
I washed and dried the celery before storage.
Here are the methods I tried (all in the crisper except the one that was upright in a container):
Foil (3 methods: simply wrapped in foil; wrapped in dry paper towel then foil; and wrapped in wet paper towel then foil)
Paper bags (2 methods: loose in a bag out of the crisper; and wrapped with damp paper towels in a bag)
Plain plastic bags (4 methods: loose in a bag; wrapped with dry paper towels; wrapped with wet paper towels; and just for fun, wrapped in foil in a bag)
Perforated plastic bags (3 methods: loose in a bag; wrapped with dry paper towels in a bag; and wrapped with damp paper towels in a bag)
Upright in a container (1 method) with a couple inches of water in the bottom
What did TipBusters find?
The results were measured in terms of how crisp the celery was, how well it retained its colour, and how little browning there was. And just for fun, there was a taste test for each batch.
#1 – BEST – A tie! Our celery stalks fared best when they were wrapped in dry paper towels, and stored in either a plastic bag or a perforated plastic bag. These were the crispest with no browning. I should remind you that this was after 4 weeks. I pushed the time for storage, and they still looked and tasted fresh.
#2 – Wrapped in foil. This method fared remarkably well; in the end there was no decomposition; the celery stalks were just not quite as crisp as the above method. After numerous times opening and closing the tin foil, there was a bit of shredding of the foil, compromising its seal; however, the result was still quite good.
The method that fared the worst was the celery that was stored upright in water (enough said earlier). The celery stored in the paper bag was limp and dry. Any celery that was stored in damp paper towel (within foil or within a plastic bag) had browning that started at the edges and worked its way up.
So why did these methods work? It appeared that the trick, as with many vegetables, is not just keeping the vegetables damp, or dry, but rather keeping them at their ideal humidity. Fresh celery has the right amount of moisture in it. Wrapping it in paper towel, then plastic appears to keep the balance of moisture where it’s needed, without having enough moisture to trigger decomposition. The paper towel between the celery and plastic allows the celery to breathe a little, but not lose too much moisture. Tin foil seems to also do a very good job of keeping moisture in for a while, while not being too airtight. Some sources state that the foil is a good method because it does not trap ethyelene gas, which is a substance produced naturally by fruits and vegetables as they age, and if trapped near a fruit or vegetable, promotes more rapid ripening. However, any ethylene gas that may have been trapped in a plastic bag with celery did not appear to affect the storage at all.
And why is storing the ends in water ineffective? Our speculation is that it appears to be just too much water at the stalk end, and it causes decomposition after a while. Perhaps if the celery were constantly trimmed, with a freshly-trimmed end exposed, it would be okay; however, that’s a lot of work, and after a while, you would work the stalks down to nubbins.
So in a nutshell, based on my results: wash and dry the celery, trim the edges with a sharp knife, and store it wrapped in a paper towel inside a plastic bag. And enjoy (for a few weeks!)