In every season of a year, we have typical vegetables and fruits which are often eaten raw or cooked, in salads or in cakes, and we simply love them. Now it is high season for rhubarb! But is it vegetable or fruit? And do we really love it even though it can be poisonous?
Rhubarb is available at consumer markets in early spring and here in the UK, it is a seasonal plant. For many years, it was considered as a vegetable, mainly in the US, especially because fresh leaf stalks are crisp and very similar to celery. It was first used as a fruit in New York in 1947 and from that time it is finally considered as a fruit, as we all know it nowadays. At least for some, it is considered as a fruit.
Rhubarb is a very special plant and it does not have many uses. Leaf stalks have very strong, tart taste and they are often cooked with a sugar and used in pies and other desserts. Also, rhubarb is grown primarily for its stalks, also known as petioles. Even though British people are often using it in their pies and desserts, it can also be put into savoury dishes or even pickled.
For cooking, the stalks are often cut into small pieces and stewed with added sugar while little water is needed as rhubarb stalks contain a great deal of water on their own. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger are sometimes added too. A similar preparation, thickened with cornstarch is used as filling for rhubarb pie, tarts and crumbles. It can also be dehydrated and infused with fruit juice. Mostly it is infused with strawberry juice to mimic the popular strawberry rhubarb pie.
A common, strange and affordable sweet for children in the UK and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in sugar. It is still eaten this way in Finland, Norway, Iceland and some other parts of the world. In Chile, rhubarb is sold on the street with salt or dried chilli pepper which is very untraditional in the UK.
In traditional Chinese medicine, roots have been used as a laxative. Roots also contain some compounds which seem to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic mice. It also has the ability to aid weight loss and improve digestion. It is packed with minerals, vitamins, an organic compound and other nutrients. Fibre, vitamin C, protein, vitamin K, calcium or magnesium – they are part of the rhubarb. It is also one of the lowest caloric fruit, 100 grams of rhubarb contains only 21 calories.
It is also very effective in diseases like Alzheimer is. Vitamin K plays a significant role in brain and neuronal health. It can prevent the oxidation of brain cells and stimulates cognitive activity. Also, it can play a vital role in protecting the brain and bones Vitamin K stimulates bone growth and repair. Combined with calcium and minerals, it can play a big role in bone protection
Rhubarb can also cause illness and it can be poisonous. When it is damaged by severe cold, it should not be eaten because it may be high in oxalic acid which migrates from the leaves. Such poisoning was a particular problem in World War I when the leaves were recommended as a food source in Britain.