What is Cultured Celery Extract?

July 8, 2011

Hmmm...it looks like a lot of people are looking for information about cultured celery extract lately. Actually, I'm getting a ton of hits on my site as a result of people's curiosity. I think I can give a pretty good guess as to why too....there seems to be a trend among food manufacturers/processors to remove nitrates/nitrites from processed meats and going 'natural'. But what does this have to do with celery extract you ask? Read on...

'Natural' weiners for instance, have the following ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, vinegar, cane sugar, cultured celery extract, spice, dehydrated garlic, and smoke. Doesn't sound half bad, eh? Hmmm...there has to be a catch; there always is...when processed foods are labelled with 'natural' I'm always suspicious. Did you know that there aren't any guidelines for using the word 'natural'? Putting the word 'natural' and a picture of a barn or cows on the front doesn't make the food any healthier. It's called healthwashing - promoting something as healthy when it really isn't.

But, one may say, the ingredients aren't that bad, are they? No, not really. They could be a lot worse actually. I've seen many, many other products with way worse ingredients. A loaf of processed bread, for instance, has a list twice as long AND with words that most people can't even pronounce. Looking at the ingredients, the one item that most people seem to be wondering about is the cultured celery extract. Why is there celery in weiners, bacon and deli meats? Plain and simple - it's a natural source of nitrates.

Traditionally, sodium nitrite has been used as a preservative in processed meats and fish to prevent the formation of bacteria that may cause botulism. Unfortunately, it has been shown to have carcinogenic side effects. Recently, fooducate.com listed 7 things to know about nitrites in your luncheon meats http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2009/03/16/7-thing-to-know-about-nitrites-... Here are a few highlights from the article:

- Sodium nitrite is a food preservative used primarily in prepared meat and fish such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, corned beef (spam), luncheon meats, and smoked fish
- Sodium Nitrite helps preserve the pink/red color of the meat which should have been grayish having been precooked.
- It wards off closridium botulinum, the bacteria responsible for botulism, a dangerous disease causing respiratory and muscular paralysis.
- When cooked or broken down in the stomach, nitrites form nitrosamines, which can cause cancer in young children and pregnant women.
- Spinach, beets, lettuce, celery, parsley, and cabbages are among vegetables with high concentrations of nitrates. The amount is determined by the plant's genetic age, and the amount of nitrate in the soil. Don't stop eating these veggies, many of them also contain vitamin C, naturally limiting the formation of the toxic nitrosamines.

The last point is interesting... After doing some additional research, I have learned that sodium nitrate is a naturally occurring mineral and is actually present in most vegetables. Basically, anything that grows from the ground draws sodium nitrate out of the soil. Even still, the nitrate present are not a cause of concern because due to the vitamin C and antioxidants present the negative effects are eliminated.

As a rule I don't buy meats from the grocery store but I have bought elk weiners from a vendor at the Covent Garden Market. I did speak to him about the trend towards using celery extract and he told me that he also used this ingredient in his weiners. To be honest, he said, it's impossible to make true 'nitrate-free' weiners, bacon, or deli meats. They would be completely unpalatable and everything would have a grey color tinge to them.

The question remains, however, if the 'natural' celery nitrate is a good replacement for the traditional sodium nitrate?? What do you think? What are your thoughts? Are you more likely to purchase these products? I'm on the fence on this one.... I'm not sure if I support the use of celery extract or not. It's a step in the right direction I'm sure, but there isn't a lot of information out there to support any benefits of using celery versus traditional sources. I've concluded that everyone else is on the fence as well because there doesn't seem to be any difference really. Is it just a case of food processors 'healthwashing' their products once again?

Dallas Rocheleau lives in London, Ontario and has been blogging about local eating since 2009. She sources out local foods from the Southwestern Ontario region and loves to spend time in the kitchen making seasonal recipes. She also avoids buying processed foods and tries to replicate common grocery store foods at home from scratch. Her blog can be found here.

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I am 2 months pregnant and read somewhere that I should stop eating sausages with nitrates, so I have been purchasing the Natural Maple Leaf and Schneiders weiners. Then I heard a couple of days ago that the celery extract is bad for you as well. I love to eat hot dogs during the summer but I'm not sure if these are safe for me to be eating. You are right about the word "Natural". As soon as I saw the packaging I went for it right away, but it could be a gimmick. We are quite fortunate because we hunt in the fall and have our own wild meat in the freezer (homemade sausages etc.). This is about the time when we run out, hense, store bought weiners. I'm glad I found this site. Just when you think it's safe... Jessica

Alternative Meat

Hi Jessica,

If you like eating hotdogs during summer, but you are trying to stay away from chemicals and preservatives, you can try tofu/veggie hot dogs which I find taste almost exactly like the real thing. Anyways, hope that your pregnancy going well:).

Much Love, Lindsay


Yeah...I agree... It's hard to know what's really natural when it comes to processed foods. So many manufacturers are using words such as 'natural' to increase their sales, in the hopes that people won't realize what they're really eating. It's a shame really. That's why I try to make everything from scratch at home and eat real foods. Thanks for the comment!

Law Requirement

Is it a requirement by law to have Nitrite in fermented meat products.

Law Requirement

From what I've been told it's impossible to have nitriate(ite) free processed meats because they wouldn't last and they'd also be an awful brown color.

The celery extract is now used by a lot of companies to (1) make it more appealing to people who want to avoid nitrates and (2) because it sounds like it would be more natural. In reality, it's still nitrates..

"cultured celery extract"

I just contacted McCains re: cultured celery extract in the pizza meat. I couldn't get a straight answer. Was told it just an ingredient in the processed pizza meats. Couldn't get the how/why it was cultured... (I thought cultured usually referred to bacteria... not plant matter).

I'm now seeing it as a source of potassium nitrate (boiled, extracted???)

And, as for this "natural" component stuff.. isn't poison ivy, nightshade, etc all natural, too?

Natural and nitrates

Yup, the word "natural" on a product is a sure-fire warning sign that they have something to hide. I always avoid those foods.

Nitrates have been a part of curing food since humans starting doing so. It is *the* key ingredient. There's no other way to do it, so if nitrates are a problem for you, you shouldn't be eating sausages, lunch meats, or bacon.


When I found out about the celery extract, I was livid. I actually found out through an email received from the cancer foundation. Up until then, I was buying these 'natural' weiners from Schneiders. My 2 year old was having 3 a day, she absolutely loves hotdogs. I didn't mind because I thought they were the healthier of all the rest being 'natural'. You couldn't believe when I got that email how I felt. This has to stop. I feel like back to basics is the best way to go... foods from the earth and nothing else. The problem is life is so busy, it's almost impossible to cook like we used to growing up. Everything is always done in a hurry. I will change this in my house. These companies will not be making money from me any longer. It is sad that I have to take away one of the foods they really love... especially when they don't eat much else. Maria

You need to settle down.

You need to settle down. Eating healthy isn't about absolutely eliminating all bad from our diet. It's about balance. Weiners here and there are fine. The stress you'll save from all the worry will extend your life far longer than strict diet.


Ditto!!!! So so true. I am 42 and grew up having processed meats for lunch.My mother didn't know any better ! I am absolutely fine! Everything in moderation is always ok.

good luck with that

The whole "I am fine" thing is a joke. This current generation is the first to be expected to die before their parents. How is that fine? All it takes is one bout of fatal cancer and you're done. I want to thrive, not just be "fine". Avoid shitty processed crap... unless you're too lazy I guess.


Did you really think giving a 2 year old 3 hot dogs a day was healthy??? OMG give your head a shake lady.

celery extract

Where do I start... this product is just as bad as the other man made nitrates and nitrites. If you cannot pronounce it, you shouldn't eat it and if it is man made don't eat it. Hence, cold (deli) meats and all this hooplah about "Natural" is just a line to get us to buy these products. Cook a roast, slice it up, freeze it and you have luncheon meat.

Nitrates and Nitrates are two different things

First of all, please do some more research... Nitrates and Nitrites are two different things. NitrITES change into the cancer causing chemical N-Nitrosamenes. NitrATES do not. So it is important that when you are presenting or reviewing your information that you make sure you are using proper terminology and meaning. I will continue eating broccoli and celery and and other leafy green vegetables and my Schneider's natural meats... If you want to read further just google "What is the difference between nitrites and nitrates" Not to discredit the writer of this article, but I do believe clarification is in order. Also, home prepared is best and organic etc. It isn't always possible so I choose to do the best I can. Thanks for posting :)

nitrites / nitrates

Just so you know, preservatives in these kinds of foods are required by law to keep them safe for you and edible -- as no one wants to have people sick with c-botulinum. Celery powder as mentioned above is rich in nitrates which the celery culture converts to nitrites in levels specified by the law (100 ppm) in order to make the food safe.

Feeding kids 3 hot dogs per day every day, just because the package says "natural" is just plain silly. All things in moderation. The odd hot dog now and then should be fine for most people, whether they are using cultured celery powder or not. As was mentioned before, this food has way less artificial preservatives in it than your loaf of white bread. So don't worry, be happy, and enjoy your BBQ!

Natural meats

For years I have tried to duck and weave around Sodium Nitrate. Difficult but not imposssible. I like the meats preserved with good old Ascorbic Acid, vitamin C and not Nitrates.

Cultured Celery extract

Thanks for providing the timely information. I guess it is up to us as consumers to do our homework and decide what is healthy for us or not. In regards to the issue of naturally occurring nitrates being used in meat products (cultured celery extract) I am leaning towards abstinence. As a folk herbalist, I have learned that nature always provides the perfect balance in the herbs/foods she gives to us. As you have noted in your article, vitamin C is provided in the vegetables you had mentioned to balance the naturally occurring nitrates.

This keynote has been missed by the entire commercially prepared food industry as well as the pharmaceutical industry. You cannot isolate one chemical or nutrient etc. in order to benefit from it as you then creating an unbalanced form which will always cause some further imbalance. There is a synergy in food that has yet to be understood by mainstream science and industry.

On a personal note, I am highly sensitive to nitrites/nitrates in preserved meat and react with eczema within a day of consuming these products. Before the news of the celery extract, nitrate connection, I hesitantly tried a small portion of ham with this ingredient in it just to see how I would react. I was surprised when I felt the familiar tingle of eczema creeping in the next day. It was just a small amount that I was able to counteract with treatment (natural of course ; ) but it gave me pause and I decided that I would not try it again regardless of it's claims.

(Please note that with the increased use of fertilizers and over abundance of liquid manure sprayed on fields from confined feeding operations, we are now subjected to increased amounts of nitrates in the agricultural products we consume.)

I think that by stating on their label they have no added preservatives or that they use only natural ingredients, the processed meat manufacturers using cultured celery extract have been deliberately misleading. Just because they have cultured a “natural” ingredient to create a certain chemical does not make that chemical more or less harmful.

As others before me have mentioned, even if you are not sensitive to nitrates/ nitrites, "all things in moderation" is probably not a bad idea.

Basic Rule: Good food goes

Basic Rule: Good food goes bad.

If you have food that can last forever... it is bad for you.

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