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Rhubarb - English Rhubarb

Rhubarb Facts

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English Rhubarb

Yorkshire Early Forced Rhubarb

Photo © Elaine Lemm
English rhubarb is a lovely vegetable - yes rhubarb is a vegetable. Delicate, slender stems of early rhubarb appearing in the shops is always cause for celebration. The arrival of rhubarb heralds the waning of the cold winter months and the promise of spring just around the corner. How cheering the vibrant pink color of rhubarb is on a grey day and how delicious too.

Where is Rhubarb From in England?

By far, most of the rhubarb in England comes from Yorkshire in the north of England. Yorkshire is fortunate to have access to some of the best rhubarb in what is known as the Rhubarb Triangle of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford.

A European Union scheme to register and protect cultural foods from around Europe has recognized the produce of the world-famous Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle as a unique regional food. This move will protect the Yorkshire Rhubarb brand across the EU from cheap imitations, great news for growers and consumers of rhubarb.

History

Rhubarb originated in China and Tibet. Records date to 2700BC showing rhubarb used mainly for medicinal purposes. The earliest record of the culinary use of rhubarb in Europe dates from 1608.

“Forcing” rhubarb (growing it in dark conditions) only began in the early nineteenth century. This method produces a more succulent and delicate stalk of rhubarb than those grown outdoors in the garden.

Choosing and Using Rhubarb

The telling sign of fresh rhubarb is not only its bright color; the rhubarb stalks should be firm and upright, the leaves a pale yellow and never black.

As with all local, seasonal foods, rhubarb is best eaten fresh. Also, avoid storing rhubarb for too long. If it’s not possible to eat the rhubarb straight away, simply top and tail the stalks, cut the rhubarb stalks into small pieces and poach gently, three or four minutes, in a little sugared water. Cool and freeze. This simple rhubarb compote can be used in pies and crumbles, folded into custard and whipped cream or in many other recipes.

Recipes

Some of the best recipes for rhubarb are “nursery-food”; rhubarb pies, puddings, crumbles, and of course, with custard. However, in recent years rhubarb has enjoyed a lofty status appearing on menus at top restaurants alongside game, lamb and beef and on one menu, even with mackerel.

Rhubarb Fact File

  • Rhubarb (genus Rheum) belongs to the plant family Polygonaceae. Contrary to popular belief, Rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit, being a close relative of garden Sorrel.
  • The stalks of rhubarb though tart are edible, the leaves however are toxic.
  • Early spring rhubarb doesn't need peeling, simply trim and wash.
  • Rhubarb is 95% water. It contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol.
  • Rhubarb contains a fair source of potassium. The crisp, sour stalks are rich in vitamin C, dietary fibre and calcium.
  • The calcium in rhubarb combines with oxalic acid making it hard for the body to absorb.

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