I wouldn't touch celery without a swath of peanut butter layered on top. I probably wouldn't touch it even then. Celery is not a stand-alone food for me.
But a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports identification of the flavor-boosting components in celery - and it reaffirms what cooks have known all along.
In their paper, Kikue Kubota and colleagues note that cooks have long recognized celery’s “remarkable” ability to enchance the complex flavors of soups and broths - it takes on a sweet-spicy flavor after boiling, helping to give food a thick, full-bodied, satisfying taste. Until now, however, scientists have been unable to track down the roots of celery’s effects.
The scientists prepared batches of chicken broth with and without a volatile extract from celery. Panels of tasters confirmed that the flavor of soup made with celery extract was more intense. In particular, celery’s extract enhanced the sweetness and umami (meaty or savory) taste of the broth, even though the extract had virtually no flavor of its own.
From the extract, researchers identified three compounds responsible for celery’s flavor-enhancement. The compounds were phthalides, and they had the ability to enhance flavors despite being tasteless themselves.