Everything you need to know about rhubarb! Seasonality and nutrition information. Choosing, storing, and freezing. Plus rhubarb recipes to try.
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Hey, Rhubarbarians! Let's take a deep dive into our favorite veggie, rhubarb!
It's OBVIOUSLY no secret that we obsess over rhubarb when it's in season (ahem, website name!). Once spring hits, we start to see those crimson stalks pop up at the grocery store and then we start to see those massive green leaves shoot out of our rhubarb plant. Exciting stuff.
What is rhubarb?
Rhubarb (rheum rhubarbarum) is a perennial vegetable that belongs to the rheum family. It grows as a low bush with thick, ruby red stalks and massive, triangular shaped green leaves.
Rhubarb is native to Asia, but grows well here in the Northwest parts of the United States.
The leaves are not edible so they are removed when harvesting, leaving the stalks as the edible part of the plant.
Rhubarb is commonly cooked down with sugar to create desserts or other sweet recipes. But by itself, it is quite tart!
Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? Botanically, it's a vegetable! Although, it often functions as a fruit and cooked with sugar due to it's tart flavor. The US has declared rhubarb a fruit because of this.
Rhubarb is in season in the spring time from April to June. It grows well in cooler climates and grows through August here in the Pacific Northwest US.
Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin K, vitamin A, and antioxidants. According to WebMD.
- 1 cup chopped fresh rhubarb
Is it poisonous?
There is some confusion about whether rhubarb is safe to eat. Rhubarb leaves contain high concentration of oxalic acid which make them unsafe for consumption.
Many fruits and vegetables contain oxalic acid (including the rhubarb stalk), although the amount found in the rhubarb leaf can lead to an accumulation of calcium oxolate crystals in the organs and cause kidney stones and in rare cases kidney failure. According to Healthline.
So, rhubarb stalk is safe to eat but the leaves are not.
What does it taste like?
Raw rhubarb is stalk is VERY tart. Lip puckering tart! Many people find the tart flavor and tough, fibrous stalks unpleasant to eat.
Commonly, rhubarb is cooked with sweetener to create a more pleasant flavor and texture. When cooked with sugar, rhubarb breaks down and gets very soft making it perfect for jams, pies, or other desserts.
When cooked with sweetener, rhubarb tastes like a tart, yet pleasant fruit. Some people compare it to green apple!
How to choose
When you see rhubarb stalks at the grocery store or farmers market, your best bet is to choose stalks that are 2" wide or less. The stalk should feel very crisp and firm and shouldn't flop at all when you pick it up. Avoid stalks with brown bruises or mushy spots. If only large stalks are available, those are best used for jams or compotes!
When harvesting rhubarb from your garden, harvest the stalks when the leaves are fully open and the stalk is 7-15 inches long. Rather than cutting the stalk, grab the stalk close to the base and twist slightly while pulling.
How to store
First, cut off any leaves that are still on the stalk. Store whole rhubarb stalks unwashed in the refrigerator. You can store them in the crisper drawer, uncovered or loosely in a mesh produce bag. Don't leave them in a plastic bag, as they can become mushy.
Rhubarb will store in the refrigerator for up to one month, but make sure you use it before it gets floppy or mushy.
How to cook
- Prep the rhubarb: Remove any leaves that are attached to the stalk and wash the stalk very well. For most recipes, slice the rhubarb horizontally into ½" to 1" pieces.
- Cook the rhubarb: There are many different ways to cook rhubarb! But most commonly it is baked or stewed with sweetener. Rhubarb breaks down very easily when cooked, making it perfect for sauces, jams, compotes, and pies or other desserts.
- Fresh rhubarb vs. frozen rhubarb: Frozen rhubarb is a fantastic substitute for frozen! If you plan to cook the rhubarb, there is little difference between fresh and frozen. However, if you plan to eat the rhubarb raw or pickle rhubarb, fresh is your best choice.
Do I need to peel rhubarb? It's not necessary especially during peak season, but can be helpful if your rhubarb stalk has a very fibrous exterior.
How to freeze
First, remove any sign of leaves from the stalks and wash the stalks well. Remove any sign of damaged exterior or fibrous strings from the stalks.
Prepare a large pot of water to boil as well as a bowl of icy water to blanche the rhubarb. Place a colander in your sink. Make space in your freezer for a baking sheet and cover the baking sheet with parchment paper (parchment paper is optional).
Cut the rhubarb stalks horizontally into ½" to 1" pieces and carefully place them in the boiling water. Let them cook for 1 minute and then strain them through the colander. Immediately transfer the rhubarb to the bowl of icy water.
Spread the rhubarb pieces on your baking sheet in a single layer making sure to not overlap any pieces or have them touching a lot. This prevents frozen clumps of rhubarb rather than individual pieces.
Freeze the rhubarb on the sheet pan until frozen and then transfer to a sealed freezer safe container of your choice. You can store the frozen rhubarb in the freezer for up to 1 year.
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