Rhubarb is known for its mouth-puckering tartness, it’s used in desserts, and harvested in the spring; but how many individuals know that it’s a vegetable and not a fruit? In the kitchen, it’s prepared as if it were a fruit, with the fleshy, edible stalks cooked with sugar and used in pies and sauces; this has led to it getting the nickname, “pie plant.” It can also be used in other foods like sauces, jams, cold soups, and meats like beef, pork and lamb.
Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that grows well in most of the United States. When the stems are young and tender, the rhubarb is harvested. Rhubarb has large green leaves that should not be eaten. Select firm, red stalks; usually those that are deep red are sweeter and richer, green stalks may be sour.
Rhubarb is high in vitamins A and C. It’s low in calories with only 26 calories per raw cup. A 1/2 cup of cooked rhubarb is considered a serving. Because rhubarb is so tart, many recipes call for more sugar than other desserts. By combining the rhubarb stalks with sweeter fruits, like strawberries, the sugar content can be lowered.
Storing, Preparing and Cooking Rhubarb
- Avoid using woody or wilted stalks.
- Freshly harvested stalks can be kept in the refrigerator, unwashed and wrapped tightly in plastic for up to three weeks.
- When preparing fresh rhubarb, use a vegetable peeler to remove any brown spots. Peeling the entire stalk is unnecessary, simply trim the ends and rinse and dry the stalks.
- Rhubarb can be frozen or canned to preserve for use all year.
- To freeze rhubarb, select young tender stalks and wash, trim and cut them into one or two-inch pieces to fit your freezer containers or freezer bags. Rhubarb may be frozen raw or blanched.
- One pound of rhubarb makes about 4 cups (or 1 quart) of cut-up rhubarb.
- Four stalks of rhubarb equals approximately 2 cups of diced rhubarb.
- Adding diced rhubarb to muffins and biscuits adds nutritional value and flavor without making the batter too thin.
Rhubarb sauce is delicious as a topping for fresh fruit, waffles, pancakes, angel food cake, or yogurt. To prepare it, rinse and cut the stalks into 1 to 2-inch pieces and add 3/4-cup of water per four cups of rhubarb. Bring it to a boil and simmer until tender. Since rhubarb is acidic, use a pan that will not cause color change or chemical leakage from cookware. These pans are call “nonreactive pans” and include aluminum, stainless steel, Teflon coated aluminum, or enamel-coated cast iron. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator up to four days.
- Michigan State University Extension. Rhubarb: A Healthy, Great Spring Treat.
- Montana State University Extension. Rhubarb.
- SDSU Extension. Pick It! Try It! Like It! Rhubarb.
- University of Illinois Extension. Rhubarb.