Rhubarb 101: seven tips and tricks

Our associate food editor advises on what varieties to buy, as well as how to cook, bake and freeze this sweet-tart vegetable.

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Rhubarb.Photo, Getty Images.
Photo, Getty Images.

Born and raised in the tropics, I’ve enjoyed a plethora of fruits — from mango to pineapple to tamarind. Rhubarb wasn’t on my radar until I tasted strawberry-rhubarb pie at my first baby shower in Canada over thirty years ago. It was love at first bite, so I set out to find out more about this vegetable that works so well in fruit pies! (Ironically, I discovered that it was the ‘dark pink celery,’ I often ignored at the market because I had no clue what to do with it.) Here’s what I’ve learned:

7 things you should know about rhubarb

1. Two common varieties of this vegetable are the Cherry, with dark pink stalks, and the Victoria, with green stalks showing a hint of red. Don’t be misled by the colours — the green stalks can actually be less tart!

2. Look for bright, crisp wide stalks with minimal bruising and white marks.

3. Only the stalks are edible. High levels of oxalic acid make the leaves toxic.

4. Rhubarb is delicate and prone to water loss. It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, but freezing is best if you want to keep it for longer. To freeze: cut rhubarb into 1-in. pieces and lay out on a baking sheet. Place sheet in freezer. Once frozen, store rhubarb in 2-cup portions in freezer bags (easier for future use). This way, it’ll be easier to measure out what you need, because the rhubarb won’t be stuck together.

5. Trim both ends of the stalk. Cut stalks wider than one inch in half. A pound of cut rhubarb yields 3 to 4 cups of chopped rhubarb. To chop rhubarb, cut the width of the stalk into 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch pieces.

6. Rhubarb is acidic. It is best to cook it in coated pans or glass baking dishes. Avoid using metal pans such as aluminum, copper or iron, as the rhubarb will turn brown and the pan will become discoloured.

7. When using frozen rhubarb for baking, thaw in a sieve over a bowl to discard excess liquid. Otherwise use it from frozen. Simply reduce the amount of liquid listed in the directions.

Now that I have a garden, I’ve got a spot set aside for rhubarb this spring so that my love affair can continue.

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