Glossary of Foods: Rhubarb

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Rhubarb may look a lot like celery with long, firm, slender stalks, but don't let that fool you. Let the crimson red color of rhubarb serve as a warning that what you're about to bite into is completely different! Rhubarb has a strong, tart, bitter taste, very unlike celery's mild, grassy, almost sweet flavor. Though they might look alike, rhubarb has uniquely different culinary uses and flavors all its own, especially for desserts!

Rhubarb stalks

Rhubarb is a spring perennial vegetable that grows with long, red, fleshy leaf stalks, called petioles, and large, dark green, triangular leaves. The edible stalks can range from a deep crimson red to pink to light green. The color of the stalks does not indicate if the plant is ripe or ready for harvest, but instead just identifies the variety of rhubarb plant, though the deep red stalks are most popular.

The leaves of the rhubarb plant are not edible; they contain oxalic acid which will cause you to get very sick! (Please note, you'd have to consume an extreme amount of oxalic acid for it to be fatal. Just avoid the leaves and you won't have any problems!) Don't let the leaves scare you away from this versatile plant. Rhubarb has been cultivated in traditional medicine practices for thousands of years for use as a digestive agent and laxative. Plus, rhubarb is low in calories and saturated fat and contains a healthy dose of vitamin C.

strawberry rhubarb crisp

When shopping for rhubarb in the grocery store, look for firm stalks and check the ends to make sure they're not dried out. Dispose of the rhubarb leaves. Rhubarb is one of the least sprayed vegetables as it is so resistant to pests and diseases, so non-organic pesticides should be less of a concern when shopping for rhubarb. Rhubarb is freshest in late spring and early summer.

Still questioning the appeal of this peculiar looking vegetable? Here are three words that will change your mind: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. The tartness of rhubarb perfectly balances out the sweetness of strawberries. This winning combination, usually high in sugar, has been lightened up in this surprisingly healthy recipe. Another refreshing strawberry and rhubarb combination is this Hibiscus Iced Tea flavored with sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb. If you really want a unique dish that highlights rhubarb, try this Healthy Mango Rhubarb Salsa to enjoy with baked chips or atop grilled chicken. Once you understand the flavor and complexities of rhubarb, you can enjoy it any number of unique ways!