Nutritionists at prevention.com answer questions like whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable, whether rumors about rhubarb being poisonous are true, and tips on what to do with rhubarb besides the popular strawberry rhubarb pie.
What are the properties of rhubarb?
Although classified as a fruit by the United States Department of Agriculture (US Department of Agriculture), rhubarb is a vegetable, explains Juliet Glass, director of communications for the US nonprofit organization FRESHFARM. He says that in some descriptions ŽŪD contradicts himself and mentions rhubarb vegetables. It is believed that confusion may arise because rhubarb is often used in sweet products like fruit.
Rhubarb stalks are very similar to celery stalks, except they’re not salad green, but rather deep green, cherry or white, says Debra Moser, founder of Central Farm Markets in Washington. He noted that rhubarb has nothing to do with celery.
Mr. Glass recommends choosing cherry-colored rhubarb because it adds a nice pop of color to dishes. According to him, raw rhubarb that has been heat treated looks bad. Farmer Lee Jones, author of The Chef’s Garden , says cherry rhubarb makes for a variety of dishes, while green rhubarb stems have less flavor.
Is rhubarb poisonous?
Rhubarb stems are perfectly safe to eat and enjoy, but the leaves contain a toxic substance called calcium oxalate, explained Jennifer Aga-Khan, a registered dietitian and one of Culina Health’s experts. Although it is not recommended to eat the leaves, it is safe to touch the leaves and stems. “Eating too much rhubarb can build up dangerously high levels of this substance and cause kidney stones,” he warned.
The leaves at the top are very large because their natural function is to shade the plant and protect it from the sun, says Jones. However, rhubarb stalks are usually sold without leaves in the market.
When does rhubarb season start?
According to Mr. Glass, the best time to cut rhubarb is in the spring and early summer, but in some areas it is harvested again in the fall. “This is the truest seasonal plant. In spring and summer, they can be used only for a few weeks, maybe a month, and then they disappear,” adds D. Moser.
In many regions, the rhubarb season more or less coincides with the strawberry season, so rhubarb often appears in the markets at the same time as strawberries. By mid-summer, the rhubarb stalks have grown and hardened, so people usually don’t eat them anymore, Glass noted.
What does rhubarb taste like?
According to Jones, rhubarb can be very tart—almost as tart as an apple or lemon. For this reason, rhubarb is always boiled with sugar or combined with some sweet fruit. “Rhubarb has a delicious, fresh, tart flavor and a silky texture when cooked,” Mr Glass said.
How to use rhubarb?
Rhubarb contains toxic substances and rumors about its extreme acidity can scare the inexperienced cook. But Mr. Glass encourages you to try. “I think rhubarb is a fantastic and underrated vegetable. It’s really not as fun as it looks,” he said.
In fact, you can process them in a similar way to celery – first cut off the ends of the stalks, wash them well, then cut them into bite-sized pieces. She says you don’t need to peel the rhubarb because the fibers soften as they ripen and don’t interfere with them.
“Even though rhubarb is a vegetable, it’s often used in sweet recipes, such as baking cakes,” says New York-based culinary expert and nutritionist Jessica Levinson. “They’re very acidic, so they’re usually made with a lot of sugar to bring out the sweetness.” If you want to reduce the sugar in rhubarb recipes, Moser suggests cutting it in half if you don’t mind the sour taste.
Here are some ways to use rhubarb.
Bake the cake. It may sound obvious, but if you’re feeling bored, Mr. Glass recommends breaking out of the classic rhubarb-strawberry pairing. Look for pie recipes where rhubarb takes center stage. But of course, strawberry and rhubarb pie will always be a classic.
Or another dessert. Rhubarb is often used in cakes, but Mr. Glass recommends using it in other dessert dishes, such as adding it to coffee cakes or fruit fritters. However, he cautions that the latter requires more sugar than cakes to bring out the sour rhubarb flavor.
Make the rhubarb syrup. Boil rhubarb with sugar and vanilla, puree and use for pancakes or ice cream.
Taste the cocktails. Ms. Levinson herself says she likes to make rhubarb simple syrup and use it to flavor summer cocktails like margaritas, mimosas or bellinis.
Take advantage of rhubarb’s acidity. Rhubarb is almost always used in sweet dishes, but you can also try adding it to vegetable dishes. They soften during stewing and give a pleasant acidity to vegetable dishes.
Spice up your protein. If you like the savory side of rhubarb but don’t want the acid to sting your mouth, Moser suggests making a sweet rhubarb compote and drizzling it over meat or chicken for dinner.
How to store rhubarb
If you want to store rhubarb in the refrigerator, Mr. Glass recommends wrapping it tightly in foil and keeping it as dry as possible. If you will only be using the rhubarb in a few days, you can put it in the freezer. Mr. Glass says rhubarb freezes very well if you cut it into cubes and put them in a freezer bag.
Is Rhubarb Healthy?
In the spring and early summer, these vegetables have a number of health benefits. In fact, Jones even predicts that rhubarb will soon become “another superfood.” Mr. Levinson points out that lighter parts of rhubarb stems are high in vitamin K, a nutrient important for bone health and blood clotting. Rhubarb is also a great source of fiber and potassium, she adds.
In addition, rhubarb stems are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins (which give them their bright color). These antioxidants support heart health and reduce inflammation, the Aga Khan said.
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