Wellness gurus have extolled its benefits, but there's no science that supports their claims.
In May 2018, Perelandra, a natural foods store and juice bar in Brooklyn Heights, sold 316kg of celery; in May 2019, it sold 564kg of it, according to Roland Auer, the store's co-owner. He's seen these patterns before.
"A couple years ago, cilantro shot up in popularity like this," he said. "Last summer, it was turmeric."
Produce crazes often occur in the wake of medical reports that extol a certain vegetable's health benefits. Sometimes the cause is something more scientifically nebulous, such as a citation in Goop or an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show. This year, people are crazy for celery.
Organic celery, to be specific, which is recommended in a book that came out in May called Medical Medium Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide. In it, Anthony William, a guru who receives his health advice from a source he calls the "Spirit of Compassion," advises readers to drink 0.5 litres of organic celery juice each morning on an empty stomach. "The juicing craze has caused celery prices to spike," The Los Angeles Times explained last month, connecting the dots between Goop, Kim Kardashian West and William.
He says drinking celery juice can lead to clearer skin and weight loss, and help eliminate migraines and gout. Of course, these claims are not backed up by science. But that has not prevented many celebrities from publicly endorsing William, including Sylvester Stallone, Pharrell Williams, Robert De Niro, Novak Djokovic and Gwyneth Paltrow.
In New York, juice is a hallowed symbol of status. Expensive juicers are the mark of a high-tech, high-end, "clean eating" kitchen, and juice bars are a feature of some of the city's more exclusive gyms. The Museum of Modern Art recently displayed Josh Kline's "Skittles," an installation of 15 smoothies intended to encapsulate different experiences of New York ("condo," "night life," "Williamsburg") with deliberately absurd ingredients like yoga mats and octopus ink.
In juices and otherwise, celery has never been so hot. "We've seen celery sales in produce triple in growth from the previous year," Masud Alam, the Northeast Regional Produce Coordinator at Whole Foods Market, wrote in an email.
Michael Karsch, the chief executive of Juice Press, tracked the rise of celery juice on social media and on Google Trends and, less than a year ago, responded by offering 350ml of organic and cold-pressed celery juice for US$7. "Within a few days, it was our third-best-selling beverage, which is astonishing for a one-ingredient offering," said Karsch, a reluctant convert. "I have been historically unimpressed by celery. It's not vibrant. It's got a ton of water and a ton of a fiber. But I was in the store this morning and had a celery juice this morning. Something about it that made me feel like I was doing something good for myself."
Problem was, he couldn't keep up with demand. "Three months ago, we couldn't provide enough celery juice for about four days," he said. They've had such shortages before. "Five years ago, it was organic almonds; there was kale maybe seven years ago," he said.
At Perelandra, the average price was US$2.11 per pound of celery; this year it's US$3.67.
The cause was something of a perfect storm of supply and demand, according to Sammy Duda, the senior vice president for national operations at Duda, a farm that has been selling celery since his great-grandfather started growing it in 1926. Duda is, for all intents and purposes, Big Celery: one of the largest growers of both organic and conventionally versions of the vegetable in the world. "We're familiar with all the celebrities who have endorsed celery juice," Duda said. "It's difficult to put a number on it, but it certainly exacerbated the supply issue. This is uncharted territory."
Some of Duda's celery is grown around Palm Beach, Florida, where there was a warm, dry fall, which affected the crop. On the West Coast, its celery is grown in Oxnard, in Southern California, or in the deserts of California and Arizona, where there was a cold and wet winter, which can slow the growth of the crop or make it go to seed. There was also a soil-borne disease that affected Duda's crop. "You put all those things together for a shorter than normal supply," Duda said. "If the supply is down, the price goes up."
He can't predict the next produce craze. "I wish I knew, and if I did I probably wouldn't say," Duda said with a laugh.
Perhaps William will fuel the next trend as he did for celery. He has been promoting produce to his nearly 2 million followers on Instagram, one that he claims can help heal acne, eczema and psoriasis. It's the papaya. Better stock up now.
Written by: Marisa Meltzer
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES