Although it’s technically a vegetable and not a fruit, we’ve decided to include rhubarb in the fruit section, as it’s used similarly to fruit. When it’s in season you can often find it in our fruit bags for this very reason.
With its distinctive red stalks, rhubarb may appear similar to celery, but the two are not related. Rhubarb leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid, making them toxic, while the root has been used as a digestive aid in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The edible stalks have a distinctive tart taste and are most commonly used in desserts.
- Because of its purported medicinal properties, rhubarb was a much-valued commodity in the 14th century, transported from China to Europe along the Silk Road and often costing more than saffron, cinnamon and even opium. High demand drew the interest of Marco Polo, who set off to discover the source of the plant (Tangut province between Mongolia and China). In later years, the Russian Tzar and the East India company were both vying for the trade monopoly.
- Rhubarb was introduced to the British isles by doctor called James Mounsey who had ties to the Russian court. He smuggled some seeds into Scotland from Moscow in the 1700s, and the plants were then grown in Edinburgh.
- Culinary uses for rhubarb didn’t take off until around the early 19th, when sugar was becoming cheaper and more readily available. Rhubarb stalks were then used much as they are now - in pies, jams and desserts.
- “Yorkshire forced rhubarb”, originating in the UK’s “rhubarb triangle” in Yorkshire is a traditional way of producing early season rhubarb known for its particularly sweet taste. Forced rhubarb is grown by candlelight in special “forcing sheds” and is picked by hand. This practice has been around since at least the 19th century and while the industry has shrunk since its heyday in the 1930s, the term “Yorkshire forced rhubarb” is a protected food name under the EU’s protected food name scheme (alongside Champagne, Stilton cheese and Parma Ham).
Rhubarb nutrition facts
Although rich in fibre, rhubarb isn’t particularly vitamin and mineral rich, although it’s a good source of vitamin K1 and antioxidants (polyphenol, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins) and a decent source of vitamin C.
How to keep rhubarb fresh
Rhubarb stalks will keep in the fridge for up to a month when wrapped in a piece of kitchen foil. Crimp the ends gently and avoid making it airtight. Only chop the stalks into smaller pieces when you’re ready to use them or if freezing (see below), as stalks will keep for longer.
Can you freeze rhubarb?
Rhubarb can be easily frozen. Wash and dry the stalks and cut them into smaller pieces. Freeze in trays in a single layer to begin with to avoid sticking. Once frozen (it takes about 3-4 hours) remove from the tray and keep in a sealed bag or box in the freezer. When frozen in this way, rhubarb can be used for up to a year.
How to prep rhubarb
Rhubarb leaves are toxic and should never be eaten, so always make sure to trim them and discard. Wash the stalks and remove any blemishes with a knife or vegetable peeler. When using for crumble, pie, etc. chop into small pieces as per your recipe.
What can you make with rhubarb
- Crumble, pies and galettes tend to be everyone’s go-to recipes for rhubarb, as is compote and jam. Rhubarb cakes are also popular, as are puddings.
- Rhubarb can also be fridge-pickled with vinegar and sugar or turned into chutney.
- Turn it into cordial or syrup that can be used either for cocktails and drinks or made thicker for using on pancakes and desserts.
- Spiced rhubarb sauce can add interesting sweet and sour flavour notes to savoury dishes
Check out our growing collection of rhubarb recipes for more ideas.