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July 24, 2019
10 questions (and…answers) about rhubarb!

You hear about it, you see it, you may have even tried it… But, deep down, you do not know a lot about it. I am referring to rhubarb which is becoming more and more well-known among cooking and food lovers. So, what is it exactly? Where and how do we use it? What can we do with it? The most basic questions regarding rhubarb will be answered today! What do you think? Shall we look at them one by one? And don’t forget: In the end, there will be some super recipes waiting for you!!!

1. What is rhubarb called in Greece?

“Raventi” – I will answer you. Or “reventi”. That’s how rhubarb is called in Greece and the truth is that it is becoming more and more popular.

2. It’s a plant, a herb, or something else?

Rhubarb is, indeed, a plant which has fleshy stems and large, long (poisonous) leaves. It can be cultivated in fields and in greenhouses as well. Without this being a rule, rhubarbs that come from greenhouses are sweeter than the others. Moreover, you can find several rhubarb varieties in the market, whose taste may range from relatively sweet to particularly bitter…

3. Is it a vegetable or a fruit?

This answer may surprise you but it will definitely clear things up…Botanists have characterized it as a vegetable. However, in cooking it is used as fruit! Moreover, if you search online a little, you can find one more version on how rhubarb started as a vegetable and ended up as a fruit. So, based on that, in 1947 a decision was taken by a New York court, according to which rhubarb should be considered a fruit since it had been used as a fruit and the legislation of regulations and customs required it to be considered as such. This, of course, meant reduced customs for this product, since fruits were priced lower than vegetables.

4. Does it also contain vitamins and other valuable nutrients like fruits and vegetables?

Of course, it does! Rhubarb is very low in calories – it contains only 19 calories per 100 g – while it has almost no fats and carbs. It is a good source of antioxidants and fiber and it seems that it had been used in Chinese medicine in order to treat constipation. The minerals that it contains are potassium, manganese, calcium, while it contains vitamin C too. Of course, all these elements are necessary for our body’s normal function. In fact, there are positive indications that consuming rhubarb, due to its fiber content, may reduce total and bad LDL cholesterol -of course, this is something that we should know about all foods and vegetables that are high in fiber.

5. Which part of the rhubarb do we use?

From the rhubarb, we keep ONLY the stems since its leaves are poisonous. These stems are crunchy and they have a characteristic, tart, intense taste. A taste that many people prefer in its...sweeter version and for this reason, we often find rhubarb in sweet recipes (e.g. pies, tarts, etc.).

6. Do we have to use only red rhubarb?

The truth is that the crimson color is considered the classic, characteristic color of this plant. However, it is not the only one! You see, the shade of the rhubarb stems may differ depending not only on the variety, but also on the way and place of its cultivation. But its color is not related to whether it can or cannot be used. Crimson, pink or even green rhubarbs can be used in cooking and in pastry as well.  

7. How is it used in cooking?

As we have already mentioned, we keep its stems and not the leaves. So, you can cut these stems into pieces and boil them in water along with sugar, until they soften. Then, if you want, you can enhance their flavor by adding several spices, like ginger or cinnamon. Generally, you can use rhubarb in tarts, pies, to make jam with it, sauces, even pickle it. Lastly, it could also go in savory recipes with chicken or beef.

8. What about its seasonality?

Rhubarb’s harvest season depends on the area in which it is cultivated (as is the case with almost all fruits and vegetables). In temperate regions, its seasonality starts from the beginning of spring and lasts until the end of it. The season of plants that are grown in fields, on the other hand, may last until the end of summer; in fact, in some areas, even two harvest periods may be recorded. In any case, rhubarb requires sun to thrive and grow. Now, in case that its cultivation period coincides with extremely cold weather, it should not be consumed. That is due to the high levels of oxalic acid found in the leaves and then, transferred to the stems, making the plant harmful to our body.

9. How can we pick the best ones?

The hard, shiny, and smooth stem is the element that will lead us to a good rhubarb. So, it is the main characteristic that we should be looking for when buying it. Now, as soon as you buy it, use it right away or -if you want- store it in the refrigerator until needed. How? By removing its leaves, cutting it into pieces (larger or smaller) and by storing it into food storage bags. In that way, you can preserve it for about 5 days in the refrigerator and for almost a year in the freezer.

10. Which is the best rhubarb recipe that we definitely have to try?

They are many! But let’s start with these three ones; they’re my favorite!

Rhubarb sorbet

Rhubarb sorbet by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis

Rhubarb tart

Rhubarb tart by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis

Rhubarb bars

Rhubarb bars by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis

Now, you know almost everything you need to know about rhubarb. All you have to do is use it in your kitchen and send me photos of your own creations.


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