Food in the Spotlight: Rhubarb

Rhubarb was always a bit of a mystery to me as a child. It seemed like everyone grew it, but I never saw anyone eating it. It looked like the leaves should go in with salads, or maybe the stalks should be eaten like celery, but adults assured me I wouldn’t like either of those options. Then I’d forget about it until I was eating it in a pie in the fall.

Eating the leaves would have been a very bad idea. Rhubarb leaves contain large doses of oxalic acid, the consumption of which can lead to severe kidney problems. In different parts of the world, however, eating raw rhubarb stalks is considered a treat for children, the stalks dipped in a bit of sugar to offset the naturally tart, sour flavor.

Rhubarb has its roots (pun intended) in Chinese culture, but has been around North America for at least 300 years as well.

It tends to be a low-maintenance plant to grow at home, and is usually among the first garden products ready to harvest in the cool spring weather. It’s best to give rhubarb at least two years before taking a harvest to better ensure long-term production. Stalks should be cut at 12-18 inches in length, but at least two stalks should always be left behind to leave nutrient reserves for the plant. Properly cared-for rhubarb plants can produce for up to 20 years!

Rhubarb is a low-calorie food, coming in at less than 30 calories per cup. It’s especially rich in vitamins C and K, as well as potassium and manganese. Potassium is an especially notable mineral, as it’s commonly deficient the average American’s diet.

Although rhubarb is most well-known for pairing with berries and other fruit in desserts like pies, cakes, and muffins, it can also be the key ingredient in a great spread or sauce and can even complement chicken in a savory dinner!

Don’t let your rhubarb go to waste this year. Comment on our Facebook post here with your favorite rhubarb idea!

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