Cel-Ray Soda Grabs New Fans

Oldtime Soda Fave Adds Kick to Gazpacho

Cel-Ray of Hope: It’s fair to say Cel-Ray soda is an unusual, acquired taste. The deli favorite is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, even as an ingredient in recipes.
leah koenig
Cel-Ray of Hope: It’s fair to say Cel-Ray soda is an unusual, acquired taste. The deli favorite is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, even as an ingredient in recipes.

By Leah Koenig

Published July 18, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Nearly 150 years after Cel-Ray first hit the market it retains traces of its health drink roots. These days it’s sweetened with corn syrup, but the drink’s peppery bite still comes from celery seed extract. That’s more than you can say for most national-brand colas, ginger ales and even root beers, which, as the “Saturday Night Live” character Linda Richman once said, contain “neither roots nor beer. Discuss.”

Creative restaurants like Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen in Berkeley, Calif., have capitalized on Cel-Ray’s nostalgic appeal. In 2009 they started making their own, in-house celery seed soda and cocktails. “We wanted to bring back deli’s heyday, when every corner soda fountain had its own celery soda recipe,” said co-owner Karen Adelman. In Manhattan, kitsch-inspired restaurants JoeDoe and Kutsher’s Tribeca have followed suit, serving up a gin-spiked celery cocktail and a house-made soda infused with celery seeds and tops, respectively.

For armchair fizzy drink enthusiasts, two different companies — Bittermens and P&H Soda Co. — both recently launched Cel-Ray-inspired products. Bittermens’ Orchard Street Celery Shrub bitters were developed in 2011 as a flavorful homage to the Lower East Side’s tenement era. P&H’s soda syrup, meanwhile, is actually flavored with the leafy green plant lovage, not celery. But proprietor Anton Nocito, whose father-in-law grew up drinking Cel-Ray on the Lower East Side, told me that he had the classic drink on the brain when he created the flavor last year. He sweetens his syrup with both sugar and golden raisins, which, he said, “cut through the plant’s overpowering flavor,” leaving behind a floral, celery-esque syrup perfect for spritzing with seltzer.

Bittermens co-owner Avery Glasser told me that customers have been using Bittermens’ aromatic mix of celery, ginger, apple, caraway and apple cider vinegar to flavor “not just cocktails, but cooked dishes like potato salad, too.” As someone who falls squarely into the Cel-Ray fan club, I find this news exciting. And also rather elegant. When used in the right situations, Cel-Ray’s balance of sweet and herbaceous flavors brightens marinades, sauces, salads or, as I suggest in the this recipe, even a summery tomato gazpacho. Cel-Ray was born as a health tonic and grew up in the delicatessen. Perhaps now is the time to usher in its newest phase as the home cook’s secret weapon.

Cel-Ray Gazpacho

Cel-Ray adds a hint of sweetness and celery flavor to this refreshing summer soup.

Serves 8

8 ripe tomatoes (about 4 pounds)

1 small red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 jalapeño pepper (or 2 if you like heat), seeded and roughly chopped

1 cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped

1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 cup loosely packed parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

3 tablespoons roughly chopped mint leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 cup Cel-Ray

1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a pot of water to boil over high heat.Meanwhile, score a small X into the bottom of each tomato and set aside. Add equal parts ice and water to a large bowl and set aside.

2. When the water is boiling, drop the tomatoes into the pot, one or two at a time. Boil for 30-45 seconds, or until the skin begins to peel off, then immediately transfer to the ice bath and let sit for 5 minutes. Once cooled, peel skin off tomatoes and discard skin. Core and roughly chop peeled tomatoes.

3. Place prepared tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, cucumber, pepper, garlic, parsley, mint and olive oil in a food processor and pulse to desired consistency. (Do this in batches, if necessary.)

5. Pour tomato mixture into a larger bowl and add Cel-Ray and desired amount of vinegar. Season mixture liberally with salt and pepper. (Salt is a tomato’s best friend, so don’t under-salt.)

6. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, or ideally overnight, to let flavors meld. To serve, ladle into bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil and additional parsley.

Leah Koenig writes a monthly column for the Forward on food and culinary trends. Contact her at ingredients@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.