What Is Rhubarb and What Should I Do with It?

If you've only had this spring vegetable in pie, you're missing out

Photo: jon11 / Getty Images

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Spring is rhubarb season – but, especially in the U.S., this special stalk is often overlooked. You may have only had it in a strawberry and rhubarb pie, if at all. Even many people who enjoy eating rhubarb admit confusion about how to actually prepare it. I remember the first time I saw a dense display of those long, pinkish stalks at the Copley Square farmers’ market in Boston and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

What Is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a plant, much like chard or celery, that has been cultivated for thousands of years.Botanically, rhubarb is a cousin of sorrel, and part of the buckwheat family (don’t let the name fool you, it is definitely not a wheat or grain). It has a taste that’s sort of like eating an apple and a bit of celery at the same time, which might sound weird, but give it a try.

For some, the plant’s seasonal arrival is a much-anticipated signal of spring. Unlike most fruits and veggies that are commercially farmed, you can really only get fresh rhubarb during a short window of the year, typically late March through June. When you see it in the market, snap some up. If you want it to last through the year, prep stalks and freeze them or use them to make jams and preserves at the peak of the season.

Is Rhubarb Poisonous?

Kind of, actually! The leaves and roots of the plant contain oxalic acid that can be toxic to humans and animals. Don’t eat those parts! The stalk, however, is totally edible and safe – with one possible exception. If you are growing rhubarb in your own garden at home and the entire plant freezes in a cold snap, you might want to skip eating it; it’s possible for the oxalic acid to enter the stalk under those conditions.

How Do I Cook It?

Rhubarb is best when cooked, as the heat reduces much of its tartness. In America, the veg is traditionally used in desserts like pies, but it lends itself well to savory preparations, too. Try these recipes to get started.

Rhubarb Fool

Indian-Spiced Lentils with Spinach and Rhubarb

Oatmeal-Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb-Ginger Shrub

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp


RELATED: What Are Meyer Lemons and What Should I Do with Them?

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