It’s that great time of year when we see a lot of rhubarb making its way from the backyard garden or the local market into our kitchens. Most of the time rhubarb is treated as a fruit, and we make our favorite desserts – possibly rhubarb crisp or rhubarb cake. But is rhubarb really a fruit, or is it a vegetable? And what kind of nutritional content does it have? Let’s find out….
Fruit or Vegetable?
Rhubarb is part of the Polygonaceae family of flowering plants. It has large green leaves and long stems or petioles that can vary in color from crimson red to pink to light green. The stems are the edible part of the plant and have a decidedly sour tart taste. The leaves are poisonous, as they contain an extremely large amount of oxalic acid crystals which can cause such severe health problems such as the tongue and throat swelling (preventing breathing).
If you said it is True that rhubarb is actually a vegetable – you would be correct! It is most commonly treated as a fruit and eaten as a fruit, but it is considered to be a vegetable.
Cooking and sweetening rhubarb
Because of the acidity and the sour / tart taste, a large amount of sugar is typically used to sweeten rhubarb. Healthy natural sweeteners are the best to use and it is always better to use a minimal amount. Rhubarb can be sweetened with sweet fruits such as strawberries. I received a very good tip from my friend Judy about a way to reduce the amount of sugar or sweetener needed to sweeten rhubarb when cooking it. If you add a small amount of baking soda to the rhubarb, the amount of sugar needed to sweeten it can be reduced by about half (or less!), and the acidity will also be reduced. Great tip – thanks, Judy! I have tried it, and it really does work! One note: if you are cooking the rhubarb on top of the stove, the baking soda will cause it to foam up – so it will need to be stirred often to keep the foam down.
Nutritional profile and related health benefits
The exact nutrients change depending on whether the rhubarb is raw, frozen, or cooked. In general, rhubarb:
- Contains a high amount of vitamin C, an antioxidant and infection fighter.
- Is rich in fiber, which is very important for a healthy digestive and elimination system. Because of the fiber content, rhubarb has historically been used in Chinese medicine for relieving constipation and soothing the digestive system.
- Is a good source of lutein, which is very beneficial to the eyes and skin.
- Contains calcium, an essential mineral for bones, teeth, hair and nails.
- Contains Vitamin K, which helps the body form blood clots, promotes healthy bone growth and can help limit neuron damage in the brain.
- Contains antioxidants lycopene and anthocyanins, which neutralize free radicals in the body, strengthen the immune system, and help the cardiovascular system. Lycopene and anthocyanins are also the pigments that give red rhubarb its vibrant color. It is interesting that lycopene is present in cooked rhubarb but not in raw rhubarb.
- Contains Vitamin A, which is very beneficial for the mucous membranes, the skin and eyes.
- Has a number of B Vitamins, which are very important for cells all through our body, including the skin. B Vitamins are also important for our blood and circulation, digestive system, nervous system, immune system and our eyes.
- It is possible that the nutrition in rhubarb could be effective against the risk of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have been done that show the risk of some cancers is lower in people who eat foods with high levels of the antioxidant lycopene.
Rhubarb is very versatile and can be used in many different dishes – from pies and cobblers to soup, salad, wine or a condiment to accompany meat. There are a lot of recipes available for rhubarb. Here is one interesting recipe I found on Dr. Mercola’s website: Rhubarb Salad with Goat Cheese. Here are two other great recipes: Rhubarb and Strawberry Pudding, and Gluten Free Rhubarb Cake.
Rhubarb is technically categorized as a vegetable, but no matter how you eat it – it has plenty of good nutrition and health benefits! It is quite easy to obtain during the summer months, and it can easily be frozen to enjoy all winter long.
Do you need more information on foods that are super nutritious and will help you increase energy and vitality? Contact me to chat about how I can help you gain energy, feel and look younger and avoid degenerative disease.
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