What is the purpose of celery powder in organic processing?
By Johanna Mirenda
Celery powder is listed in §205.606 of the National List, indicating that nonorganic sources are allowed for use in organic processing only when the material is not commercially available in organic form. The manufacturing process for celery powder is fairly simple. Celery is harvested, cleaned, macerated and blanched. The insoluble solids are separated from the liquid and then concentrated, heated and dried. Celery powder is not typically formulated with any ancillary substances.
Celery powder was petitioned for inclusion on the National List in 2007, due to its primary function as a natural curing agent in processed meat products such as hot dogs, bacon and salami. Celery powder is naturally high in nitrates, which are converted to nitrites during fermentation to provide the “cured” meat attributes of color, texture and flavor in the final processed product (although meats that are processed with celery powder and without the use of chemical agents may be labeled as “uncured”). Nonorganic celery powder is very high in nitrates because conventional celery is produced with synthetic high-nitrogen fertilizers. Since organic celery is not produced using synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, the resulting organic celery powder has lower nitrate content than nonorganic celery powder.
In October 2015, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) discussed celery powder for its sunset review, and nonorganic celery powder came very close to being prohibited. On a motion to remove celery powder from §205.606 of the National List, the NOSB voted 5 yes, and 9 no. Those who voted to remove the listing were concerned that organic processed meat products that used nonorganic celery powder seemed to be indirectly dependent on conventional synthetic fertilizers. An expert panel provided an update to the NOSB in April 2019 regarding growing trials that began in 2015. These trials aim to provide an organic celery powder option. The panel reported that the search continues for organic celery varieties that provide the high nitrate levels that result in the amount of nitrite needed for to complete curing process. For more information on this trial visit https://www.organic-center.org/site/organic-alternatives-conventional-celery-powder.
The NOSB completed its most recent sunset review of celery powder in October 2019. On a motion to remove celery power from the National List, the NOSB voted 1 yes, and 11 no.
Revised and updated in July 2021 by OMRI Technical Director Doug Currier. This article was originally published in the summer 2016 edition of the OMRI Materials Review newsletter.