Rhubarb

With its ruby red stalks and dark green leaves, rhubarb is a hallmark sign of early summer. Known for its crisp stalk and tart taste, rhubarb scores well on the nutrition front. This month we're singing the praises of rhubarb!

Rhubarb

Nutrition Notes

Rhubarb is unmistakable with its ruby red celery-like stalks and large green leaves.  Rhubarb stalks are very tart, while its leaves are toxic and should never be consumed.  On the nutrition front, rhubarb is very low in calories and fat and a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Fresh rhubarb has less than 30 calories and half a gram of fat per one cup.  It also contains over 110 milligrams of calcium, 370 milligrams of potassium and 10 milligrams of vitamin C per serving.  

Due to its tart taste, rhubarb needs a fair amount of sweetener to make it palatable. To help cut back on the amount of sugar you use, sweeten rhubarb with other sweet fruits such as strawberries and apples.

Rhubarb has long been regarded for its medicinal properties.  It's been used as a laxative thanks to its high content of emodin and rhein - two natural compounds with laxative properties.

Nutrient information per 1 cup (250 ml) fresh, diced rhubarb:

Calories 27 kcal
Fat  0.3 g
Protein 1.2 g
Carbohydrate 5.9 g
Fibre 2.3 g
Vitamin C 10.3 mg
Calcium  111 mg
Potassium 371 mg

Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b

Varieties

Most varieties of rhubarb fall into two basic types - hothouse and field grown.  Both are available from early spring to early summer.  

Hothouse rhubarb has pink to pale red stalks and yellow-green leaves.  Generally, hothouse varieties are less stringy than field-grown.  Field-grown rhubarb tends to have a more pronounced flavor and cherry red stalks and green leaves.

Popular varieties of rhubarb include 1) Canada Red, with long, thick stalks and an extra sweet flavour, 2) Cherry Red, which has rich deep crimson colour and, 3) Valentine, known for its extra long stalks.

Buying

When buying fresh rhubarb look for crisp stalks that are bright and colorful. The leaves should be fresh looking and blemish free.  Avoid stalks that are dried out on the ends or have wilting leaves. Stalks should be firm and crisp, not limp. Small leaves usually indicate younger and more tender stalks.

If you've got a backyard crop, harvest the rhubarb when stalks are brightly hued but not too thick. Avoid waiting for the stalks to get too long and thick, otherwise they will have a tougher texture. 

Storing

To store fresh rhubarb remove the leaves, wrap the stalks in plastic wrap and then store in the refrigerator where they'll keep for up to three days.  Never eat the leaves of rhubarb, cooked or raw, as they're poisonous to both humans and animals.

To freeze rhubarb chop stalks into 1/2-inch pieces, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. Once frozen, slide the rhubarb pieces into a resealable plastic freezer bag. Seal tightly and put back in the freezer. Packed this way, rhubarb will keep for up to six months.

Preparing

To prepare fresh rhubarb use a vegetable peeler to remove any brown or scaly spots. You don't need to peel the entire stalk unless it is really stringy. Trim the ends and wash and dry the stalks. Cut the stalks into 1 to 2-inch pieces for cooking. One pound of rhubarb yields about 3 cups chopped.

Rhubarb can be eaten raw, but it's generally cooked and sweetened, or combined with other ingredients in a cooked or baked dish.

It's important to cook rhubarb in nonreactive metal pots or glass baking dishes. Pots made with aluminum, iron or copper will react with the acids in the rhubarb and will turn it an unappetizing brown color.  Use glass, stainless steel or enamel-coated cast-iron cookware.

To bake rhubarb place cut-up stalks in a glass-baking dish and sprinkle with sugar.  Cover and bake in a 300°F (150°C) oven until tender, about 30 minutes.

To stew rhubarb place chopped stalks in saucepan with a few tablespoons of water, sugar and seasoning (orange zest, fresh ginger and vanilla bean work well).  Stir until well combined. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Eating

Rhubarb is delicious in pies, muffins and quick breads.  In North America, rhubarb and strawberries are a favourite combination, while in other countries, such as the UK, its often paired with ginger.

Breakfast

  • Toss a handful of cooked or stewed rhubarb in your morning smoothie for a boost of potasssium.
  • Stir ¼ cup (50 ml) cooked or stewed rhubarb into a bowl of oatmeal; sweeten with sliced strawberries or a drizzle of honey.
  • Add diced rhubarb to quick breads, pancakes and muffins batters.

Lunch

  • Start your meal with a bowl of cold rhubarb and fresh berry soup.
  • Add a small amount of cooked, diced rhubarb to fruit salads.

Dinner

  • Pair rhubarb chutney with roasted meat, such as beef or pork - click here for a recipe.
  • Finish a special meal with a slice of homemade rhubarb pie - click here for a recipe.
  • Enjoy a small bowl of stewed, sweetened rhubarb for dessert.
  • Serve stewed rhubarb over a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt for a nutritious dessert.
  • Enjoy a small bowl of rhubarb sorbet for a refreshing hot-weather treat - click here for a recipe.

Did you know?

  • The word rhubarb comes from the Latin word "rhabarbum", which means near the river.
  • Rhubarb didn't become known for its culinary qualities until the late 1700's; prior to this it was regarded for its medicinal properties.

More Information

Foodland Ontario

Cooking Light

Wikipedia