Rhubarb. Yup, it’s a vegetable. I can eat it like it’s nobody’s business. I’m a new person as soon as the first signs of rhubarb appear in the spring, shedding my winter blahs like a bear coming out of hibernation. I am won over by those shiny, gorgeously coloured stalks growing regally toward the sky, its tart flavour so perfect in both sweet desserts and savoury dishes. (It was by pure coincidence – and clearly fate – that it was chosen as the colour of Joya’s logo.)
I’ve learned a thing or two about rhubarb over the course of my love affair that I’m going to share with you – because all living beings deserve to be showered with rhubarb love. This How to Rock Rhubarb 101 guide is going to make you a certified rhubarb connoisseur in 3 minutes flat.
When to Buy It
The rhubarb you find at the market falls into two main categories. Hothouse grown rhubarb are typically pink to light red with yellow-green leaves and begin to make appearances in early May. Field grown are often deeper red and begin to appear in later spring, hitting their prime in early summer. They’re both good. They are rhubarb, afterall. And when I’ve waited all winter I’m not about to discriminate against the hothouse. But there’s something about those field-grown ruby red stalks… now that’s my jam.
So you’re thinking, “all this hype and now I have to wait until next spring?” Well, not exactly – if you’re lucky. A fair number of farmers get a second (albeit smaller) harvest later in the summer, and I often find beautiful rhubarb in July and August. No better example of nature’s brilliance: one harvest right in time for making strawberry-rhubarb galette with perfectly sweet June strawberries, and another harvest begging to be blended with juicy late summer peaches into a late summer sorbet, or tart, or crisp…
(Photo by Sophie Bourdon)
How To Choose It
Picking the perfect rhubarb comes down to two key rules:
#1: Don’t confuse colour with ripeness or sweetness
There are many varieties of rhubarb, from shorter, narrow, deeply red stalks to the super long and wide green stalks, with various thicknesses and colours in between (including pink and red-green speckled). But green doesn’t mean unripe. In fact, there’s no correlation between colour and sweetness. So if you’re baking a tart and want a lipstick-red pop of colour, then look for those deep red stalks. Otherwise…
#2: Think “firm and not fat”
Look for firm, crisp stalks and shiny skins – no limp, rubbery, dry rhubarb with bruises and blemishes. And for the best texture, stick to skinny to medium width stalks.
(Photo by Alanna Taylor-Tobin)
How To Store It
Once you’ve picked your perfect rhubarb, wash the stalks well before you store them, and trim off and discard the leaves as they are poisonous (they contain oxalic acid). Rhubarb can dry out easily, so don’t cut the stalks until you are ready to use them. Uncut cleaned, trimmed and dried stalks can be stored in the refrigerator (ideally in the crisper drawer to retain humidity) for about a week sealed in a loose plastic bag.
Rhubarb can be frozen in an airtight bag or container, in which case you’ll want to cut the stalks in advance. Just be aware that freezing alters the stalks’ texture and once defrosted, they will no longer be firm and crispy. Great for making jams and sauces, but not the right storage technique if you’re planning on making a pie with meaty chunks of rhubarb.
How To Eat It
How not to eat it?!? Sweet or savoury, baked or frozen… the options are endless. Here are just a few of my favourites. Enjoy rhubarb every which way!
Strawberry rhubarb rose galettes (gluten-free) – The Bojon Gourmet
Rhubarb custard crumb pie – Apt. 2B Baking Co.
Rhubarb blueberry apple pie – The Vanilla Bean Blog
Paleo rhubarb tart – 40 Aprons
Vegan braided rhubarb almond tart (vegan) – Adventures in Cooking
Rhubarb cornmeal cake (gluten-free) – Kris Osborne
Rhubarb almond cake – Alison Roman
Strawberry rhubarb crumble bars (gluten-free, vegan) – Minimalist Baker
Hibiscus rhubarb haupia (coconut milk pudding) (gluten-free, vegan) – The Bojon Gourmet
Roasted spiced rhubarb with dates & yogurt (gluten-free, paleo, vegan optional) – Alison Roman
Strawberry rhubarb yogurt popsicles (gluten-free, paleo, vegan optional) – Lafayette NYC, Chef Jen Yee
Rhubarb ice cream sandwiches (gluten-free, vegan optional) – Green Kitchen Stories
Breakfasts and Snacks
Rhubarb strawberry chia pudding with pistachio & rose dukkah(gluten-free, paleo, vegan) – The Green Life
Raised waffles with buckwheat & vanilla stewed rhubarb (vegan) – The First Mess
Rhubarb berry baked oatmeal (gluten-free, vegan) – Edible Perspective
Strawberry rhubarb salad with mint & hazelnuts (gluten-free) – Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen
Roasted salmon with savoury rhubarb & chard (gluten-free, paleo) – Feasting at Home
Spicy chicken thighs with rhubarb-cucumber salsa (gluten-free) – Bon Appétit
Chicken tagine with rhubarb (gluten-free) – Martha Rose Shulman
Rhubarb butter (jam) (gluten-free, paleo, beegan) – Meghan Telpner
Rhubarb compote (gluten-free) – Lily Mirabelle Freedman
Rhubarb shake (paleo) – Melissa Clark
Rhubarb-Lemongrass Kombucha Aperitivo (beegan, vegan optional) – The Green Life & The Joya Life
Rhubarb & rose iced rooibos tea (paleo, beegan) – Happy Hearted Kitchen
Roasted strawberry-rhubarb agua fresca (paleo, vegan) – Will Frolic for Food
Grilled strawberry-rhubarb sangria Barano NY – Chef Albert Di Meglio