What Is Rhubarb? Here's What You Need to Know About the Versatile Ingredient

There's so much more to rhubarb.

pieces of rhubarb on turquoise wooden surface
Photo: Getty Images

You're either a rhubarb person or you're about to be. The long, stalk-like piece of produce can prove to be a challenge for people saddled with the vegetable (yes, it's a vegetable) in CSA shares and farmers market bundles, but rhubarb is a culinary wonder just begging for unique input. Here's everything you need to know about this semi-obscure food.

What Is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a vegetable that tends to be used like a fruit. Unlike tomatoes and avocado, fruits that are used in more savory preparation, rhubarb's tartness lends itself to being paired with more sweet flavors. And though it may look like some familiar vegetables, rhubarb is in a class of its own. "Rhubarb, oddly enough, is not related to the celery or Swiss chard families, it's actually part of the buckwheat family," explains Brian Beadle, head chef of higher education at an ethical food service company called Genuine Foods. It is typically in season from May to late summer, and is cultivated in hothouses, but can also be found outside of those seasons.

How to Shop for Rhubarb

When choosing rhubarb, look for stalks with a firm texture that do not break or bend, says Alain Verzeroli, director of culinary operations at Le Jardinier, a New York City restaurant. "The pink to red color of the stalks, also called Petioles, indicates ripeness, and the green part of the stalks tends to be more tart," he says. "You can not eat the rhubarb leaves, only the stalks." Along with standard garden rhubarb, the most common types of rhubarb are the Victoria, Crimson Red, Cherry Red, Chipman's Canada Red, and Prince Albert, which each have a distinctive flavor, color, size, and natural sugar content.

Rhubarb Nutrition Benefits

A cup of rhubarb contains about 25 calories, has no cholesterol, and very low sodium. It's a good source of Vitamin C, and also has calcium and about 2 grams of fiber per serving. Keep in mind that rhubarb's tartness means it is typically eaten with sugar or other sweeteners, which are not considered nutritious. Rhubarb is popular in Eastern medicine, and has been used as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and even anti-cancer medicine in China for centuries.

How to Cook With Rhubarb

To prep your rhubarb, wash and gently peel the stalks with a knife in order to remove the stringy texture of the skin, and cut the stalks in 1-inch to 1/1-inch pieces, Verzeroli suggests. From here, it depends on what you're doing with the rhubarb. Verzeroli likes making a rhubarb compote with various types of sweetener, like unrefined brown sugar or honey. Overripe sweet strawberries or apples can be added to the simmering compote for sweetness, and it can be enjoyed at room temperature with Greek yogurt, or over cake, pastries, and ice cream. "Rhubarb is also a good combination with foie gras, cold like a torchon or pan fried," Verzeroli says.

How Long Does Rhubarb Last?

"If you cook it down, it can last for a while (as with a jam), but I prefer baking it fresh," Beadle says. In the refrigerator, unwashed, unwrapped rhubarb will last for about three weeks.

Rhubarb Recipes

Getting creative with rhubarb opens a whole new slate of possibilities for the tart vegetable-cum-fruit. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

01 of 05

Roasted Rhubarb Salad With Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Roasted Rhubarb Salad With Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Meal prep this salad for a chef-y but totally easy take on savory rhubarb. The creaminess of the goat cheese compliments any bitterness well.

02 of 05

Strawberry Rhubarb Sangria

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sangría

This simple batched cocktail recipe is perfect for a warm weather party. Reserve some rhubarb to use as a fun swizzle stick and garnish.

03 of 05

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

This scrumptious dessert requires just 15 minutes of hands-on time, then leave it to the oven to bake your cake to perfection. Get the recipe for Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake.
Marcus Nilsson

Let rhubarb's beautiful natural hues shine with this gorgeous cake. Try using two varieties of rhubarb for even more variety and color.

04 of 05

Pork Chops With Tangy Rhubarb Chutney

Pork Chops With Tangy Rhubarb Chutney
Con Poulos

Explore some of rhubarb's savory potential with this pork chop topper that takes the place of a more traditional applesauce. Your dinner guests will be impressed!

05 of 05

Lemon Thyme Rhubarb Bread Pudding

Lemon-Thyme Rhubarb Bread Pudding
VICTOR PROTASIO

Take advantage of rhubarb's natural tartness by pairing it with the sour and acidic flavor of lemon. This sticky bread pudding is the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

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