March 21, 2019
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Rhubarb: The pie plant

The tomato is often mistakenly referred to as a vegetable and rhubarb as a fruit. For rhubarb, the confusion may stem from the trivial fact that in 1947 the United States Customs Court in Buffalo, NY, decided that rhubarb, “whilst being a vegetable, would be forever known as a fruit, because it was eaten as a dessert more often than not.”

Rhubarb, a relative of buckwheat, dates back to at least 2700 BC. It originated in Western China, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia and neighboring regions. Benjamin Franklin, that busy man, is credited with bringing rhubarb seeds to North American in 1772. It wasn’t until the 1800s that rhubarb became a popular ingredient in baked products.

Rhubarb is not a finicky plant and can grow just about anywhere. It prefers cool seasons and freezing winters. It is often seen growing in backyards, around abandoned homesteads and old barns. It is a perennial, and if you don’t have your own patch, check with friends. Rhubarb can be easily propagated by dividing the fleshy roots, known as corms. In two years you’ll be able to cut your own stalks to enjoy.

Rhubarb can be found in the grocery store from April through June in most areas. It is also available at farmers markets in season. It has an earthy, sour flavor and is rarely eaten raw. Like cranberries, it is very tart and difficult to eat without added sweetness from sugar to balance out the acidity. The stalks of rhubarb are similar to celery with fresh stalks being flat, not curled on the ends or limp. Stalks that are pulled rather than cut take longer to dry out. To store rhubarb wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to one week. Cooked or raw rhubarb both freeze well.

Cook rhubarb in non-aluminum pans because of the acidic nature of the rhubarb.  Never eat the leaves from rhubarb plants; they are toxic.

Rhubarb contains vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, manganese, magnesium, calcium and fiber.  A serving of half-cup diced, raw, unsweetened rhubarb contains only 15 calories.

Rhubarb crisps, pies, sauces, tarts combined with strawberries or raspberries or not — it is all yummy. Since most people are familiar with the pie and crisp recipes, I’m offering something a little different for you to try. How about a rhubarb yogurt smoothie or a rhubarb strawberry milkshake?  First you’ll need to prepare a simple base — basically a rhubarb sauce —  and it can be used in the smoothie or shake recipes.  The sauce also can be used over cake, frozen yogurt, ice cream or as a topping for pancakes, waffles or toast.  What a refreshing way to start your day!

Rhubarb Base

Yields approximately 3 cups cooked sauce

¾ cup to 1 cup sugar, depending on tartness of rhubarb and personal preference

¼ cup orange juice

4 cups chopped raw rhubarb

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and orange juice. Stir in the rhubarb and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from heat,  let cool, cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Nutrition information, based on using ¾ cup sugar

¼ cup of base:  65 calories, 0 gms fat, 16 gms carbohydrate

Rhubarb Yogurt Smoothie

¼ cup rhubarb base

¾ cup plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt

Combine together in blender. Try fruit-flavored yogurts for variety.

Rhubarb Milkshake

½ cup rhubarb base

¾ cup frozen strawberries, or ½ cup frozen raspberries or blueberries

½ cup low-fat milk

Blend together in blender.

For a thicker shake, add frozen vanilla yogurt or low-fat vanilla ice cream.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens, Maine. Read more of her columns and post questions at or email her at


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