Did you know that rhubarb actually is a vegetable, not a fruit? The pinkish veggie is super low-calorie, high in fibre and contains a great amount of nourishing minerals and vitamins, such as selenium (1.1µg/100g), potassium (288mg/100g) and Vitamin K (29.3µg/100g). While the leaves of the pinkish rhubarb plant aren’t meant for consumption (be careful - they may lead to toxic effects), the beautiful red stalks are a true kitchen highlight when combined with other veggies, grains or legumes. Ready to learn more about the beautiful pinkish red spring vegetable? Then, read on!
As mentioned above, rhubarb is a brilliant low-calorie – low-fat vegetable. With only 21 kcal, 0.2g fat and 1.8g fibre per 100g, rhubarb is the perfect “light but nutritious” addition to any meal or dessert from a macronutrient point of view.
And if we take a look at the micronutrient profile it gets even better: Rhubarb is rich in beta-carotine (provitamin A), Vitamin K, selenium, potassium and various antioxidants, the latter being responsible for the beautiful pink-red color of the veggie.
However, be careful when consuming rhubarb as the leaves of the nutritious pink veggie are loaded with oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is a natural organic compound found in many plants, such as beet greens, root vegetables and spinach. When consumed by a healthy person in small quantities, oxalic acids can actually be health enhancing. It can, for example, stimulate our digestion and gut bacteria function. This is why rhubarb has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years as a natural digestion agent / laxative. Hence the secret is: Just don't overdo rhubarb and you will be more than fine.
Small tip at the end: If you consume rhubarb with calcium-rich foods, such as dairy or plant milk with added calcium, you can partly alleviate any potential risks of negative rhubarb side effects in our body from oxalic acid. According to food scientists and doctors, cooking rhubarb before serving reduces its oxalate content by 30-87%.
Growing the "perfect mildly sour" rhubarb is considered to be considerably complex and labor intensive. If, for example, rhubarb is first grown under foil (in darkness), it tends to be less sour and more tender. Besides, the later the rhubarb is harvested, the thicker, the more fibrous and the more sour the stalks become. Hence, timing is everything for the rhubarb harvest.
Harvest season typically starts at the end of March / the beginning of April in the Norther hemisphere and October / November in the Southern Hemisphere. Just like asparagus, the season traditionally ends on June 24th.
When you purchase rhubarb, always look for stalks with a firm texture, moist/ juicy ends and the perfect pinkish/ red color. A common rule for rhubarb is: The more intensive the red of the rhubarb stalks, the less sour they are in taste.
Back in the day, rhubarb wasn’t considered an "edible veggie" or "cake filling". Instead it was mainly used medically, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Today, the sweet-sour veggie “rhubarb” has become a beloved seasonal plant food and staple ingredient of the modern western spring cuisine.
Rhubarb requires cold temperatures to grow and is therefore predominantly found in regions with temperate climates around the world. The most common rhubarb species grown today is called “common” or “garden rhubarb” (Rheum x hybridum) and contains dark red stalks. Other rhubarb species range from a bright pink color to dark red-green stalk tones. The consistency / texture of the veggie stalks is typically somewhat reminiscent of crisp celery.
Rhubarb is renowned globally for its particular sour taste. Some people claim, it is the most sour-tasting veggie out there. The reason for the acidity is its high levels of malic and oxalic acid. However, rhubarb doesn’t only taste “pure sour”. If you grab a high-quality rhubarb harvested at its peak, it should develop a delicious “mildly-sour” taste during the cooking process, which then forms a perfect balance to any starchy and /or sweet fruit, veggie, grain or legume you combine it with.
Working with rhubarb isn't difficult at all. Start with washing the veggie. Then, cut off the dry edges, as well as any potential leaves that haven’t been removed yet and cut the stalks into bite-size pieces. If the chunks of your rhubarb are very thick in size, I recommend you to also peel off the skin as those parts will taste pretty fibrous and acidy later on. Besides, their level of oxalic acid tends to be very high. Lastly, place the rhubarb into a pan or pot and cook the stalks for a few minutes.
In general, rhubarb stalks can be eaten raw. However, due to its particular sour taste and the high amounts of oxalic acid, I highly recommend you to cook the veggie before serving. And always keep in mind that only the stalks are meant to eaten - never the leaves.
If you bought rhubarb but don’t have the time to prep it immediately, just wrap it into a lightly moist kitchen towel and place it into the fridge. It will stay fresh for several days if it was bought in a “fresh condition”. Besides placing it into the fridge, you can also freeze rhubarb. Therefore, just cut the rhubarb into preferred bite-size chunks and freeze in a plastic bag or container.
If you ask me - rhubarb is one of the most versatile veggies out there. Its mildly sour flavor adds a brilliant contrast to all kinds of dishes - especially dairy-based desserts, breakfast bowls and co. Most people use rhubarb for desserts or sweet dishes. Yet, the beautiful pink veggie also shines as a sweet-sour balance in all kinds of savory dishes. Below, I listed some of my favorite rhubarb dishes for you:
- Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble
- Rhubarb Compote & Rhubarb Bread Spread
- Rhubarb Tart (Sweet)
- Rhubarb Gallete (Savory & Sweet)
- Rhubarb Pancakes – The perfect veggie to balance a sweet pancake dish
- Rhubarb Taco Salsa
- Rhubarb Salad (with edamame, strawberry, basil, ginger)
- Rhubarb Lemonade
You don’t have to but it's recommended because the rhubarb peel typically contains a lot of oxalic acid.
No, you don’t have to. However as mentioned above, dairy or cilium-rich foods help your body neutralize the oxalic acid rhubarb naturally contains. My personal opinion - as long as you don’t go overboard with it, you should be more than fine enjoying a portion of rhubarb once or twice per week - even without dairy.
I hope you enjoyed this little read on my favorite "secret spring veggie" - rhubarb. Like always, I would love to hear how you prep the seasonal veggie, see your delicious plant creations and share them on my social channels. Hence, make sure to tag me on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook.
Besides, if you have any feedback for me, veggie questions or if you just want to say "hi", comment below or shoot me a personal message through my contact form.
Love & Plants, Karo
1. EatSmarter (2021): Rhabarber (06.04.2021)
2. Wikipedia (2021): Rhubarb (06.04.2021)
3. Healthline (2019): Is Rhubarb Good For You? Al You Need To Know About Rhubarb (06.04.2021)
4. USDA Data (2021): Rhubarb (06.04.2021)