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Dutch fall in love with celeriac

Celeriac is a permanent ingredient of the traditional Dutch winter dish, pea soup. That’s why celeriac is considered a winter vegetable. Celeriac is experiencing growing popularity (in the Netherlands) thanks to the health trend. In many recipes it can serve as a tasteful replacement of ingredients rich in carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice. Besides, the vegetable is beloved by a number of TV chefs. “It helps that Dutch TV shows such as Binnenstebuiten and Koken met Van Boven spend time on the vegetable. Chef Leon Mazairac even called it the best-tasting vegetable,” says Kees Vrolijk, chairman of Knolselderijtelersvereniging Nederland, the Dutch grower’s association for celeriac.

Export vegetable
The Dutch are falling in love with celeriac more and more, it seems, after all, it’s an absolute favourite to grow. The Dutch celeriac area has been expanding every year since 2005. According to Kees, 95 per cent of production is exported. The export is mostly shipped towards Slavic countries. In Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and Hungary it’s in the top three of vegetables eaten most often. Globally, the celeriac area is about 8 to 10 thousand hectares. Poland is the largest producer with 4,000 hectares. The Netherlands also produces quite a bit of celeriac, in 2016 the country had 1,700 hectares. Growers see it as a profitable crop. The prognosis for 2017 has already been estimated at 1,900 hectares.

It’s risky to grow for export. Kees: “We’re very dependent on everything happening to the east of us. Our members make up about half the Dutch area, 700 to 800 hectares. Most grow for storage, we represent about two-thirds of that area. In the months of September and October we make an inventory of the harvest of our members, and late January, early February we make an inventory of the celeriac in storage. Most growers supply to processors and exporters, some take care of their own sales.”

The cost price of growing celeriac is between 15 to 20 cent per kilogram, depending on the method. The grower’s strategy, circumstances during growth, harvest, storage technique and subsequently the weather conditions in Eastern Europe play an important part for price-making during the season. “Some growers invest in the early covered production, others in storage techniques. But growers, also in Poland, are more and more capable of keeping production under control, and storage techniques improve every year as well. Our advantage is still the extremely long storage by means of mechanical cooling. Because of this it’s possible to supply turnips of good quality after May,” Kees says. “Creating a cooling system is both a major investment and a complicated issue. Which technique is the best, which coolants do you use, but also: what does the zoning plan have to say about it. You’re dealing with many different issues and parties. But it can give you a head start.” Strategy of industrial growers also influences price-making. In Belgium in particular, celeriac is grown for industry, for in salads and frozen products. Kees: “Industrial growers often leave turnips in the ground as long as possible, they only start grubbing them up if the factory asks for them. In recent years, many crops were lost due to the freezing cold, those volumes are therefore not on the market. That hasn’t happened this year, so that puts additional pressure on the market.”

Although celeriac is associated with the winter period and cold, it’s originally a swamp plant from warm regions. It therefore makes sense the plant can’t tolerate freezing weather, and that it’s lost when there’s ground frost. However, celeriac does very well during gentle winters, and it doesn’t mind large amounts of moisture either. This year, celeriac also proved to handle drought well.Early in the growing season there was a considerable drought, and people were concerned about the developments of the roots. Considering the exceptionally good yields this season, there was no cause for concern.

Small-sized turnips are needed for the fresh market. Celeriac is sold both with, although mostly without leaves. A good quality turnip is firm and dry, its leaves bright green. After peeling, the turnip could turn brown, but this can be prevented by using lemon juice. Celeriac can be prepared in many different ways: raw, stir-fried, stew, steaming, in the oven, boiling, mashed.

It is said celeriac has negative calories. Because it isn’t easily digested you burn more calories by digesting it than they produce after digestion. Some people have to be careful when eating celeriac, because it can cause (severe) allergic reactions, celeriac has more allergens than blanched celery and celery leaves.

Celeriac, celery leaves and blanched celery are closely related. Celery leaves is a kitchen herb and blanched celery is a vegetable. Celeriac is a stalk turnip: a tuber-like part half growing in the ground, and leaves. Both parts can be eaten. 

Not much is known about the history of celeriac. However, the use of celery was already recorded in Eurasia in ancient times. It was used in ancient China, Egypt, Greece and by the Romans. Traces of celery have been found in Egyptian graves of about 1,100 BC, and the vegetable is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. In ancient times, celery was used as herb and as medicine. The Greeks gave their athletes celery wine or elixer. In China, celery is still used as medicine, and in funeral wreaths. Around 1543, celery and celeriac became distinctive from each other due to refinement.

More information:
Knolselderijtelersvereniging Nederland
Kees Vrolijk

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