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General Description: Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a perennial spring plant with thick, red, fleshy stalks topped by inedible wide leaves. Rhubarb comes originally from Asia and although it is often used as a fruit, it is a vegetable. Rhubarb was used as a medicinal tonic until the 19th century. Note that only the stalks are edible; the leaves are toxic if eaten in quantity because of large amounts of oxalic acid. The leaves are normally cut off before sale.

There are two basic types of rhubarb: hothouse (or strawberry rhubarb) and field-grown (or cherry rhubarb). Hothouse rhubarb tends to have smoother flesh, more delicate texture, and less acidity than field-grown. Field-grown rhubarb has deeper color, more juice, and bolder acidity. Green rhubarb is also available. Rhubarb is versatile; it can be used in savory dishes and desserts.

Season: Rhubarb is in season in spring and summer. Hothouse rhubarb is available mid-January through mid-April.

Purchase: Choose rhubarb with stalks of the brightest color that are firm and crisp.

Avoid: Check both ends of the stalks for pithiness or decay. Avoid rhubarb with bruises or blemishes.

Storage: Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 1 week.


Note: Rhubarb should be cooked only in nonaluminum pots because it will react with the metal.

  1. For stringier field-grown rhubarb, pare the stalks or pull off the strings. Hothouse rhubarb generally does not need peeling.
  2. Cut off any greens and discard them.
  3. Cut rhubarb into slices, on the diagonal if desired, against the grain of the stalk.

Serving Suggestions: Make strudel with phyllo dough and a filling of sweet apples and rhubarb. Sauté rhubarb with Chinese five-spice powder and serve with salmon fillets. Make rhubarb crumb bars with pastry on the bottom, rhubarb in the middle, and a topping of oatmeal-walnut streusel.

Flavor Affinities: Blackberries, brown sugar, duck, ginger, goose, honey, maple syrup, oily fish, orange, raspberries, strawberries.

from Quirk Books: