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All about “Rhubarb”, what to do with this food?

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Rhubarb, with its strongly tangy taste, would lend itself better to savory dishes, even if it is traditionally eaten most often for dessert. This plant, native to China and Russia, can be found on our shelves from April to the end of July.

Characteristics of rhubarb:

  • Rich in fiber;
  • Source of vitamin C;
  • Source of antioxidants;
  • Stimulates transit;
  • Fight against certain pathologies.

Rhubarb, what is it?

Rhubarb identity card

  • Type: Fruit;
  • Family: Polygonaceae;
  • Origin: China, Mongolia and Russia;
  • Season: April to July;
  • Pink color ;
  • Flavor: Acidulous.

Characteristics of rhubarb

When harvested, rhubarb is in the form of large stems that end in very large inedible green leaves.

Word from the nutritionist

One serving corresponds to approximately 150g of rhubarb.

Nutritional values

For 100g of cooked rhubarb:

Nutrients                                                                Quantities                                                            
Protein 0.5 g
Lipids 0.1 g
Carbohydrates 13.9 g
Water 81.4g
Fibers 2.2 g
Vitamin C 10 mg
Beta carotene 77 µg
Calcium 75 mg
Potassium 251 mg
Phosphorus 17 mg
Magnesium 11 mg

7 benefits of rhubarb: why eat it?

  1. A study carried out in patients suffering from atherosclerosis (therefore at high risk of cardiovascular disease) demonstrated that regular consumption of rhubarb lowered total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Another study has shown that the daily consumption of rhubarb (blanched then dried) may help lower total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol (LDL) without affecting the levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL). This work has been carried out on men with high blood cholesterol. The observed effect could be in part attributable to the soluble fibers present in rhubarb.
  2. The rhubarb stem, which is the edible part of the plant, is an important source of dietary fiber. The majority of its dry weight (74%) is made up of fibers. Of these, insoluble fiber is 8 times more abundant than soluble fiber. When taking dry matter into account, rhubarb stalk contains 5 times more total fiber than oatmeal (oatmeal) and roughly the same amount of soluble fiber. Soluble fibers (pectin, psyllium …) are recognized for their ability to lower blood cholesterol while insoluble fibers (lignin, cellulose …) help to regulate intestinal function. Although rhubarb contains mostly insoluble fiber, some studies, both in humans and in animals,
  3. Rhubarb contains several compounds that have demonstrated antioxidant activity, including polyphenols. More research will be needed to determine to what extent consuming rhubarb would specifically benefit humans.
  4. Frozen and cooked rhubarb (added sugar) is an excellent source of vitamin K. Raw rhubarb is an excellent source of vitamin K for women and a good source for men. Vitamin K is necessary for the production of proteins which play a role in blood clotting (both in stimulating and in inhibiting blood clotting). It also participates in the formation of bones. In addition to being found in the diet, vitamin K is produced by bacteria present in the intestine, hence the rarity of deficiencies in this vitamin.
  5. Frozen and cooked rhubarb (added sugar) is a good source of calcium, while raw rhubarb is a source. Calcium participates in the solidification of bones and teeth.
  6. Raw rhubarb is a source of vitamin C, while frozen and cooked rhubarb (added sugar) is a source for women only. Vitamin C has antioxidant properties and may be partly responsible for the beneficial effects associated with high consumption of fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C in the blood helped reduce oxidation and inflammation in the body, a protective effect against the onset of certain degenerative diseases associated with aging.
  7. Raw rhubarb is a source of manganese, while frozen and cooked rhubarb (added sugar) is a source for women only.

Choosing the right rhubarb

The rhubarb stems should be firm and heavy. Their color should be pinkish-red.

Keep well

Once purchased, it must be consumed quickly. It can be kept for 2 or 3 days in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

Preparation of rhubarb

How to cook it? How to match it?

Although some people seem to tolerate them, it is recommended not to consume rhubarb leaves, since they can be relatively poisonous. If necessary, remove pieces of leaves that are still attached to the stems and wash them well before using them in cooking.

An hour before serving the rhubarb stalks, put them in cold water to firm them up. Trim the ends and, if necessary, remove the brown parts.

Avoid cooking rhubarb in aluminum, iron or copper pans, as it can react with these metals and turn an unappetizing brown color.

To compensate for its high acidity, rhubarb is usually prepared with a large amount of sugar, for example in jams, compotes and pies. It then becomes less recommendable from a nutritional point of view. However, you can think outside the box and take advantage of its acidity by dressing it in savory rather than sweet dishes. This is also what we used to do in northern Europe where it was added to omelets, soups and stews. It can very well replace its close cousin, sorrel, in sauces that accompany fish.

For dessert

  • In the form of mousses, ice creams, sorbets, granitas, frozen yogurts and smoothies. To reduce the acidity, mix it with fresh or frozen fruit, or with juice and garnish with herbs such as mint or lemon balm.
  • Cover the cottage cheese with a rhubarb coulis and decorate with a few strawberries or raspberries.
  • In pies. Pair it with apples, apricots and prunes, or in the must-have strawberry and rhubarb pie.
  • In the clafoutis. Substitute chunks of rhubarb for a third or half of the cherries.

In savory dishes

Salt reduces the acidity of rhubarb. In order to use less sugar in the preparations, you can soak the stems for a few minutes in water with a pinch of salt before cooking them.

  • Raw, with a salt bite.
  • Dice it and add it to bread mixes.
  • Add it to the ingredients of a vegetable soup: carrots, onion, celery, mushrooms, broth, short pasta and fresh herbs.
  • Cook it with pieces of chicken that have first been sautéed in oil. Add water or wine and simmer for an hour.
  • Chop it finely and add it to the usual ingredients for a poultry stuffing.
  • Salsa. Cook rhubarb pieces until tender with minced onions and garlic, raisins, a little honey, red wine vinegar and jalapeno pepper. Go through a blender with fresh coriander leaves. Serve with oven-heated corn chips.
  • In the vinaigrette, replace all or part of the vinegar or lemon juice with rhubarb juice, which can be obtained by passing the stems through the centrifuge. If you do not have such a device, melt the stems in a pan, mash them and pass the latter through a Chinese or a fine sieve. For a change, cook the rhubarb with strawberries and proceed as described, or add concentrated orange juice. Serve over an arugula salad.
  • Dandelion salad. Cook the rhubarb for about 15 minutes with water, wine vinegar and honey. Go to the food processor, adding oil and whip up like mayonnaise. Season a dandelion salad, garnished with goat cheese and garnished with wild strawberries or strawberry slices. Serve with garlic-rubbed croutons.
  • Add it to vegetables and meat in a tagine. Or prepare this Persian dish: brown pieces of stewing meat (beef, lamb, mutton, pork) and onions in oil. Cover with water and add the tomato puree and turmeric, salt and pepper. Cook for about 1 hour and add parsley, mint and saffron. Cook 1 hour more and add lemon juice and pieces of rhubarb. Cook until they are tender and serve with rice.
  • Bulgur pilaf. Pour boiling water over bulgur (2 parts water to 1 bulgur) and let swell for half an hour off the heat. Sauté onions in oil, add garlic and pieces of rhubarb and sauté for a few minutes. Add dried apricots, apple juice, cinnamon and, if desired, cayenne pepper. Gently bring to a boil, add tamari and a few spoonfuls of honey. Stir in the bulgur and place in a serving dish, garnishing with fresh mint and slivered almonds.
  • Cook the rhubarb, as in India, in a lentil and sweet potato curry. Put pink lentils in water and bring to a boil. Add sweet potato slices and simmer for about 1 hour. Remove from the heat, mash and set aside. Sauté rhubarb pieces in oil and cook until tender. Add a little honey, grated ginger, curry and, if desired, hot pepper. Mix with the lentil mixture and place in an oven set at 240 ° C (465 ° F) for about twenty minutes. Add grated coconut and serve over brown rice with a chutney.


Oxalate free diet

People at risk for oxalocalcium lithiasis (kidney stones made up of oxalate and calcium) should limit their intake of foods high in oxalate. Rhubarb is one of the 8 foods that have shown an ability to increase oxaluria. It is therefore recommended for these people to avoid consuming it in order to prevent the formation of urolithiasis (or kidney stones).

History of rhubarb

The term “rhubarb” is a deformation of the Latin rheubarbarum, itself derived from rheum barbarum. Rheum is borrowed from the Greek Rha, which once referred to the Volga, on the banks of which the plant spontaneously grew. The expression rheum barbarum therefore meant “barbarian plant of the Volga”. Other authors believe instead that the name comes from the Greek rheon, meaning “which flows”, alluding to the purgative properties of the root. “Rhubarb” appeared in its present form at the end of the 16th century, but by the 13th century the word “reubarbe” was in use.

The majority of the ten or so rhubarb species listed, including the one we grow in our gardens, come from China, Siberia, Mongolia and Russia. The use of rhubarb dates back to 2700 BC in China, where the medicinal properties of its root were prized. At the beginning of our era, the plant would have spread to Western Europe, where it was also used for medicinal purposes. Its first food uses would only date from the 17th century. It would have been introduced in North America at the beginning of the 19th century and was used primarily for the making of pies. This culinary tradition came from the Anglo-Saxons, who familiarly gave rhubarb the name pieplant (pie plant).

Devil’s rhubarb
What is called “devil’s rhubarb” in Quebec refers to a completely different plant, burdock, whose leaves resemble those of rhubarb.

Rhubarb is cultivated today in many countries where the climate is relatively cool. In regions where winters are not too severe, harvesting in the open field lasts about 2 months. Some of the plants can be transplanted in the cellar in the fall to prolong production.

With the stems, we make wine and, more recently, micro-brewery beers. It also produces an aroma intended for chefs. In Europe, the leaves are used to wrap cheese and butter, and the root is fed to pigs.

For further

Organic gardening

You can grow rhubarb by using seeds. But, it is preferable to buy plants of varieties which have been selected for their organoleptic qualities and for their relative resistance to the rise in seeds. There are varieties with green, pink or red stems. Gardeners and cooks generally prefer the latter, which are tastier.

Give rhubarb a place of its own in the garden, as it is a perennial plant that will produce for many years. Choose a place where the soil drains well to avoid the risk of crown rot or, failing that, prepare a raised bed. Fill the planting hole with manure or decomposed compost. Space the plants 1 m to 1.5 m apart.

Water in case of drought and mulch the plants. Do not harvest stems in the year the plants are established, and in year 2, harvest them only for 1 or 2 weeks. After that, you can harvest for 8-10 weeks, removing only a third of the stems at a time. This will allow the plants to continue their photosynthetic process and to remain quite robust. It is possible to make a 2nd harvest in the fall on the plants that you plan to eliminate the following year.

Cut flower stems as soon as they appear, throughout the season.
Each year in late fall or early spring, add a layer of manure or compost around the base of the plants.
Divide the plants after 5 or 6 years by cutting the roots into 7 or 8 pieces each with at least 1 bud. If possible, establish these new plants elsewhere in the garden.

Prolong production: Rhubarb plants can be forced into the cellar, at a temperature of 10 ° C to 13 ° C. In the fall, remove the plants from the ground, leaving them a small clod of earth and leave them on the ground to take the frost for a few days or even weeks. Then put them in large pots or wooden crates and fill with soil or peat moss. It is important to protect them from light by ensuring that the room is in complete darkness or by covering them with black plastic. The first stems should appear 5-6 weeks later. We harvest them as we do in the garden. The plants can then be kept cool, but protected from frost, and then transplanted into the garden the following spring.

Ecology and environment

A natural insecticide: In organic farming, rhubarb leaves are used to make an insecticide that is particularly effective against aphids. We prepare an infusion in which we dilute a little soap and sprinkle the plants with it.

In the Morley region of England, the cultivation of rhubarb is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation since the early 19th century. Each year, nearly a thousand tons are produced for sale fresh at the market, for freezing or for making the famous English rhubarb jam. However, global warming is a real threat to this culture. The plant needs a long period of cold before producing its stems. However, in recent years, the mild winters have had the effect of delaying the harvest by several weeks. The production season is thus reduced, as is the harvest.

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