What is celery allergy?

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.

Celery Hellery from People for the Awareness of Celery Allergy (PACA) Facebook page

Source: People for the Awareness of Celery Allergy (PACA) Facebook page

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

Look what we found free from soup

Look What We Found allergen free soup

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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”

  4. Suma soups – More details on Suma soup ingredients to follow shortly… but they do a few that are tomato and celery free.
  5. Marigold celery free vegetable stock cubes

    Marigold celery free vegetable stock cubes

  6. 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.

  7. 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.”

    Free & Easy Gravy sauce mix

    Free&Easy vegetable gravy sauce mix

  8. 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.

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.

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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.

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.

Comments

  1. Im quite allergic to celery, carrot and pumpkin (anaphalaxis reaction, itcht ears, mokd drops and throat tightens) and it makes meal times fruatrating at best as i enjoy my veggies. Ive been given an epi pen but havent had to use it as of yet (yay) but very difficult to know the ingredients used when it is say a vegetable soup or an unknown name on the label which makes me miss out on potentially tasty meals. As i said, very frustrating!

    • Hi Sarah, yes avoiding celery is tough but I can eat carrots. They are in so many meals too so I can see how hard that must be. Regarding your epipen, don’t worry about using it. You will know when you need to and take it from me, it doesn’t hurt at all. I was so scared the first time I used one but it is really not that bad. If in doubt, inject I think. Take care. 🙂

  2. I recently began manifesting a few sensitivity symptoms to celery sticks. The one not specifically in your description is an effect on my vocal cords. The feeling is the same I’ve had after breathing helium. The very slight sound change to my voice is not like “helium voice” but was noticeable to others.

    • Sounds like a mild allergic reaction to me, when I eat nuts of dairy my throat can completely close up and my tongue swell so that I can hardly speak at all. It hurts too, like a tight burning feeling. Celery seems to just wreck my skin and cause eczema. Have you noticed that cooked celery gives you any reactions? or is it just celery sticks?

      • Patricia says:

        Recently, I ate some turkey jerky, delicious stuff, and my face broke out from my forehead to my chin. It took some research to discover that ‘celery root powder’ was on the list of ingredients.

        I’ve kind of resorted to accepting the word ‘spice’ as an ingredient listed in a product as meaning ‘celery’ either root or leaf or extract (the worst culprit and worst reaction) or stalk.

        And if the product says ‘caramel color’ or even ‘artificial caramel color’ it’s a red flag for betacarotene or carrots.

        Unfortunately, in the United States manufacturers of food products are NOT required to post a warning on the products for containing celery and/or carrots. I wish they’d change that reality and soon. Hunt and peck during shopping is a drag. And not being able to dine out ever again… 🙁

  3. My son (12) reacts to ALL celery/carrot family items. He doesn’t have anaphylaxis but has major headache, seizure like and paranoid/hallucination episodes. Seems celery and paprika being the worst offenders. I am wondering if nightshades are involved too. We have not had allergy testing but don’t know if it would be beneficial at this point. Thank you for the article and everyone’s stories/responses.

    • Strange how certain foods can have this reaction for some people. Very frustrating but I’m glad you got to the bottom of it for your son – that reaction sounds horrible.

  4. “For this reason celery is noted on allergy labelling with as much importance as peanut.”

    Is this a joke or something? I’ve never once in my life seen celery listed among allergens. Companies are even allowed to conveniently hide it in “spices!” Don’t believe the crap that’s posted here. Read the WHOLE label.

    • Errr Dan… just in case you didn’t realise this is a UK blog. In the UK Celery is most definitely in the Top 14 allergens as it is across Europe. If you are based in the US then I think you may be far worse off as they don’t label it at all. I do take offense at your comment about ‘the crap that is posted here’, but I’ll let that go because I know how utterly rubbish having allergies is. I do agree about reading the whole label always as they are not always highlighted for easy spotting. Keep it polite in future please and you are more than welcome to comment.

    • Hi Dan,
      I DO believe the “crap” posted here and have to take into account that unfortunately the US doesn’t have the same rules for celery allergies as they do in the UK.

      I live in the US and I’m highly allergic to the parsley group which includes carrots, celery, dill, cilantro, coriander, and parsley (for starters).

      My partner shops for our food and reads and rereads every label. It’s a pain in the butt and it’s reality here in the US. I don’t eat anything which says *spice* or *beta-carotene* or *caramel color* sure signs that carrots and celery are lurking in my food.

      And still I discover the stray parsley group in my food. I now know by even more subtle signs than I noticed initially. My first sign is my rosacea goes haywire and I breakout with whiteheads on my nose and around my lips. Who ever knew my rosacea was caused by allergies to food? The next sign; I start to get a sty on my eyelid. Next my scalp breaks out in pimples. And last I get gastrointestinal problems.

      I wish the US would get labels for celery allergies. It would solve many of my skin issues.

  5. Thanks for this list. I have a mild allergy to celery and was looking for vegetable stock ideas. It causes me to have stomach cramps and I’ve always hated the taste so I try to avoid it as much as possible. I’ll have to check out that Merigold stock.

    • Hi,
      I’m allergic to celeriac. Might I also have a problem with fennel? So far so good….no reaction.

      • I’m allergic to celeriac but not to fennel (at least so far!) but I am now also allergic to cumin, sunflower seeds, wormwood (which is a weed/herb and flowers all over the place in mid-summer and gives me severe hay fever). I avoid celery as I assume I’d be allergic to that and don’t want to find out the hard way.

  6. Ed Sulesky says:

    Lovely. I never had a problem with celery or carrots as a child. Carrots are a no as celery, celery I usually ate in a setting with carrots at holidays so I though it was from just the carrots. Had a stalk recently because im trying to eat better in my 40s & the itching tongue & mouth started right away, thank you benedryl. Funny that cooked carrots I can tolerate, cooked celery I don’t like.

    I’m sticking to cucumbers & cheese burgers.

    • Hi Ed, thanks for the comment. This sounds like oral allergy syndrome because the cooking seems to prevent the allergic type reaction. Think courgettes, gherkins, aubergine, peppers. There’s loads of veggies out there. Good luck.

  7. George Clayton-Jones says:

    Hi, This is all very interesting. Since the beginning of the New Year I have been on a diet and just recently – during the last week or two – I have been eating a great deal of celery. A couple of days ago i had a major headache which I put down to the aftermath of a cold but today I have had another big headache after eating a just about a whole celery head. Now I am fairly convinced that the celery is the cause: i will let you know.

    • Maybe it goes to show, everything in moderation. You might be OK with smaller amounts but celery allergy is more common than you might think. Good luck with the detective work.

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