Spring is a great time to find local rhubarb. You’ll see the pink stalks at farmers markets. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but is usually treated as a fruit when cooking.
If you haven’t tried rhubarb before, looking for local rhubarb at the market is a great way to start. Ask farmers how they like to cook it!
What does Local Rhubarb Taste Like?
Rhubarb is a tart, or sour vegetable. Most people don’t enjoy local rhubarb raw, and often you’ll see recipes for rhubarb that include a lot of sugar.
Not all rhubarb recipes require a lot of sugar, though. Look towards savory options as well!
The taste of rhubarb can be described as citrusy, like the sourness of limes and lemons. It may taste like unripe apples, prunes, and grapes. Some call it puckery-tart.
However, local rhubarb may also have some sweetness, or even a bitter flavor, depending on the plant. You don’t have to make desserts with it, even if most recipes are sweetened.
You can “force” rhubarb, which means growing it under ideal conditions, in the dark. The forced rhubarb has a mild, delicate flavor, and is often sweeter. You’ll see it with long pink stalks.
Regular rhubarb is thicker, with a deep red color in the stalks. It has a more intense flavor, and crunchier texture.
When cooking local rhubarb, the taste and flavor changes. The texture softens, the juices thicken, and the stalks become translucent.
Growing Local Rhubarb
Rhubarb likes it cold, and is grown mainly in the colder areas of the country. It can grow as far south as zone 7, which means Maryland can grow local rhubarb.
Rhubarb is a perennial, and can be harvested for up to 8 years. It likes full sun, and can be harvested starting in year 3 when stalks are 12-18 inches long and are dark red.
If you want to grow your own rhubarb, but are in zone 7, you might want to give your rhubarb some light shade. Since rhubarb has few pests and diseases, and doesn’t have to be replanted, you might want to try growing some yourself.
Rhubarb stalks are edible, but the leaves are considered toxic and should not be eaten. They have high amounts of oxalic acid, which can damage kidneys.
However, since other vegetables also have high amounts, and we eat them regardless, it is possible the toxicity comes from anthraquinone glycosides.
The leaves are tart like the stalks. Rhubarb leaf poisoning is rare, but has happened in the past.
Preserving Local Rhubarb
Local rhubarb can be harvested for 8 to 10 weeks, but once it is done, it is gone for the season. Freshly harvested rhubarb keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.
Standing local rhubarb stalks up in water can help maintain crispness but the flavor will be diluted a bit.
For longer storage, chopping the stems into smaller pieces and freezing is the best option.
Local Rhubarb Recipes
Though local rhubarb is most often used in sweet dishes, the flavor of rhubarb can be used for savory dishes as well. Most popular recipes for rhubarb are jams, tarts, sauces, and pies.
Rhubarb can add a lemony sourness to thick stews and sauces because it thickens like a jelly. Pickled rhubarb pairs well with meats and barbecues. Fermented Rhubarb is great for a low sugar dessert.
Raw rhubarb can be finely chopped or grated and added to salads. You might enjoy it straight, dipped in honey or maple syrup.
Did You Know?
Though rhubarb is technically a vegetable, it is usually called a fruit because that’s how we eat it. In the 1940s the US Customs office legally declared rhubarb a fruit.
Rhubarb may be anti-cancer, though further research is needed. Traditional Chinese medicine uses rhubarb for treating chronic constipation.
Try Some Local Rhubarb!
Local rhubarb is delicious, available now, and probably pesticide free (few pests bother it!). If you have never tried rhubarb, this spring is the time to change that.
Buy some local rhubarb, find some delicious recipes, and consider growing your own as well. A low pest, perennial vegetable/fruit is a great option in your yard.
Elevate your cooking by including unusual ingredients, like local rhubarb, this year!