Why does celery taste bitter? (how to reduce bitterness)

In this article, we will answer the question “Why does celery taste bitter?” and discuss what are the compounds in the celery that give the vegetable bitterness and their properties, and how to reduce the bitterness in celery.

Why does celery taste bitter?

Celery tastes bitter because of its chemical composition, which is rich in flavonoids, phenolics and terpenes, which characterise the bitter taste of vegetables and plants (1, 2).

These compounds protect the plant from the attack of microorganisms and act as natural pesticides, due to their unpalatability in some cases. 

The bitterness in celery varies and depends on the plant variety, growing conditions, storage time and storage temperature. These factors affect not only the bitterness but also the flavour of the celery and consequently the consumer’s acceptance (3).

What gives bitterness to vegetables?

Many chemical compounds naturally found in vegetables, fruits and plants are responsible for their bitterness. Some of them are phytochemicals with health benefits, such as phenolics, flavonols, and glucosinolates (which are commonly found in brassica vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts).

Bitter compounds are found also in fruits, such as limonene in citrus, and tea, such as catechins in green tea and caffeine in coffee. All these compounds are related to positive effects on health.

The increase in the concentration of such compounds is desirable in terms of health and undesirable in terms of acceptance, as bitterness is not well tolerated by many individuals (1). 

However, bitterness can indicate the presence of poison and toxic compounds, which are generated during food deterioration. An example is the oxidation of fats, and degradation of proteins, which results in the formation of bitter compounds.

Other bitter compounds are generated in plants due to improper storage, such as glycoalkaloids (found in green-sprouted potatoes) and are considered toxic (4). Pesticides also taste bitter and should be eliminated from the vegetables and fruits. 

Can you eat bitter celery?

Yes, you can eat bitter celery. The bitterness in celery is caused by the presence of flavonols, polyphenols, terpenoids and other phytochemicals. Celery is a vegetable of the carrot family, Apiaceae, and also contains Falcarinol.

Falcarinol and Falcarindiol are polyacetylene compounds found in Apiaceae species that give them a bitter taste. They are known to have anticancer effects (4).

Flavonols, polyphenols and terpenoids act as antioxidants in the body, neutralising the oxygen-reactive species that cause oxidative processes and lead to cell damage and inflammatory processes (5).

The ingestion of these compounds helps reduce the risks of diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

How to reduce the bitterness in celery?

To reduce the bitterness in celery, you can first opt to buy the less bitter varieties. According to studies, green varieties of celery are more bitter, while yellow varieties are less bitter (3).

The bitterness varies according to the plant cultivar, the growing conditions and storage. There is an increase in the bitterness during storage (4). Therefore, consuming fresh celery is favourable when bitterness is not desirable.

Some cooking practices can reduce the bitterness in vegetables. According to studies, boiling, baking and pressure cooking can reduce the bitterness to some level, while boiling has been reported to be more effective in reducing bitterness than other cooking methods.

Microwaving vegetables has been reported to effectively reduce bitterness as well.

Another option to reduce bitterness in celery is adding dairy or eating with a dairy topping, such as sour cream. The masking effect of dairy is attributed to the property of the milk proteins to bind to phenolic compounds, thus reducing their accessibility (4).

A masking effect on bitterness is possible with the addition of salt or flavourings that contain salt in its composition. The perception of saltiness is competitive with the perception of bitterness by the sensorial receptors. In this way, increasing salt reduces the perception of bitterness.

Similarly, the addition of sugar or a flavour containing sugar can reduce the perception of bitterness by the mouth receptors, as sweet and bitter compete with each other. 

Combining a flavouring, such as soy sauce or tomato sauce with celery while cooking can reduce its bitter taste.


In this article, we have answered the question “Why does celery taste bitter?” and discussed what are the compounds in celery that give vegetables their bitterness and how to reduce the bitterness in the celery.

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Drewnowski A, Gomez-Carneros C. Bitter taste, phytonutrients, and the consumer: a review1–3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72:1424-35.


Turner L, Wagstaff C, Gawthrop F, Lignou S. Consumer Acceptability and Sensory Profile of Three New Celery (Apium graveolens) Hybrids and Their Parental Genotypes. International Journal of Molecular Sciences [Internet] 2021;22(24):13561. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijms222413561


Raffo A, Sinesio F, Moneta E, Nardo N, Peparaio M, Paoletti F. Internal quality of fresh and cold stored celery petioles described by sensory profile, chemical and instrumental measurements. European Food Research and Technology. 2006 Mar;222:590-9.


Seifried HE, Anderson DE, Fisher EI, Milner JA. A review of the interaction among dietary antioxidants and reactive oxygen species. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry. 2007 Sep 1;18(9):567-79.