Rhubarb is a unique vegetable that has been utilized for centuries due to its medicinal properties and distinct flavor. This pink and green-hued plant has been enjoyed as both a dessert ingredient and a healing herb, but do you actually know what it is? In this article, we’ll dive into the roots of rhubarb and find out where it grows. We will also explore which part of the plant can be eaten, how to cook rhubarb, and the potential health benefits it offers. Whether you’re an experienced cook or just curious about trying something new in your kitchen, this article can help you get started with making some delicious dishes.
What is Rhubarb and Where Does it Grow?
Rhubarb is a vegetable that is often used in desserts, such as pies and crumbles. However, it is technically a perennial plant that belongs to the family Polygonaceae.
Origin and history of rhubarb cultivation
Rhubarb originated in China over 5, 000 years ago, where it was initially grown for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until several centuries later that the plant made its way to Europe and became popular as a food crop.
In the 18th century, rhubarb became increasingly valuable due to its use as a laxative. The demand for large quantities caused commercial production to begin on an industrial scale.
Climate and growing conditions
- Rhubarb prefers cool climates with temperatures ranging from 45°F to 75°F (7°C-24°C).
- The soil should be moist with good drainage capabilities because waterlogging can stunt growth or cause root rot disease.
- A sunny yet partially shaded area of your garden would be ideal for planting rhubarb because it needs at least six hours of sunlight daily.
Types of Rhubarb
There are two kinds of cultivated rhubarbs: the green-stalked varieties like Victoria which are easier cooking down into sauce since they have less acidity than red stalks; and the reddish-green stalked ones like Cherry Red which grow thicker stems perfect for turning into pies or crisps recipes when harvested right before flowering stage arrives.
- Green-Stalked Varieties: – Victoria– Australian Crimson
- Reddish-Green Stalked Varieties: – Cherry Red– MacDonald
What Part of the Rhubarb Do You Eat?
Edible Parts of the Rhubarb Plant
The edible part of the rhubarb plant is the stalks. The leaves and roots are toxic and should not be consumed as they contain high levels of oxalic acid. The stalks are typically a bright red color, but some varieties can have green or pink stalks.
Toxic Parts of the Rhubarb Plant
As mentioned earlier, the leaves and roots of rhubarb plants contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can be toxic when ingested in large amounts. It’s important to remove all traces of leaves from the stalk before cooking or eating.
The best time to harvest rhubarb is in early spring, typically between April and June. When harvesting, gently pull up on one stalk at a time until it snaps off near the base. Only take about half the stalks from each plant at any given time so that there’s enough left for future growth.
Preparation of Rhubarb for Cooking
Rhubarb can get stringy if not prepared properly. To prepare it for cooking, wash each stalk thoroughly under running water and then trim off both ends. Cut into smaller pieces depending on your recipe requirements.
- Baked Goods – Cut rhubarb into small pieces or thin slices so that it cooks evenly in baked goods such as pies or crumbles.
- Cooked Dishes – Cut rhubarb into larger chunks for cooked dishes such as sauces, chutneys, or jams.
- Sautéed/Grilled – Cut large pieces at an angle so they cook evenly on the grill or sauté them in a pan.
It’s also recommended to sweeten rhubarb with sugar or honey as it has a tart taste. The ratio of sweetener will depend on your taste preference and recipe requirements. Enjoy!
How to Cook Rhubarb
Basic Cooking Methods for Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a versatile ingredient that can be cooked in many different ways to bring out its unique flavor. Here are some basic cooking methods:
- Baking: Cut rhubarb into chunks and bake with sugar and spices. This method works well for sweet recipes like pies, tarts, and crumbles.
- Poaching: Cook rhubarb in a syrup made of sugar, water, and other flavorings like ginger or vanilla. Poached rhubarb is great for topping yogurt or ice cream, or as a filling for cakes or pastries.
- Sauteing: Heat oil or butter in a pan and quickly cook sliced rhubarb until it’s tender but still holds its shape. Sauteed rhubarb makes a great side dish for savory meals.
Sweet and Savory Rhubarb Recipes
Rhubarb is often associated with desserts, but it can also be used as a flavorful ingredient in savory dishes. Here are some recipe ideas:
- Sweet Recipes:
- Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble
- Rhubarb Custard Pie
- Poached Rhubarb Compote
- Savory Recipes:
- Rhubarb Chutney – serve along with meats like chicken or pork chops
Mix chopped rhubarb into salads to add an unexpected tangy crunch