Rhubarb has been typically put in the dessert food category (think of pies, tarts, pudding, etc). But there is more to Rhubarb than you may think. This versatile, spring-harvested plant can also be used in many kinds of delicious, savory dishes.
Botanically speaking, rhubarb is a herbaceous vegetable and a member of the buckwheat family. Centuries ago, it was cooked with potatoes in Poland and in stews in Iran and Afghanistan. Today, rhubarb's long, tart stalks are often sweetened and treated as a fruit in cooking and baking. When purchasing rhubarb, look for brightly colored stalks that are firm and crisp, like a good piece of celery (actually looks like celery just red). The leaves should be fresh looking and free of blemishes, but they are not for eating.
One cup of raw rhubarb contains 2 grams of dietary fiber and only 26 calories. It's an excellent source of Vitamin K, which protects against osteoporosis and encourages healthy clotting. It's also a good source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium and manganese. The redness of the rhubarb stalks comes from anthocyanin pigments, a form of flavonoids that function in the body as antioxidants, helping to prevent inflammation and to protect blood vessels from rupturing.
Rhubarb leaves are toxic. This may be due to their high concentration of oxalic acid - the same naturally occurring substance used industrially to clean metals - or yet to be identified chemicals in the plant. Having said that, a 145-pound man would have to ingest roughly 11 pounds of rhubarb leaves to get a lethal dosage, but even a fraction of that amount could cause cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system problems. The leaves do not taste so good anyways. So stick to the stalks and reap the benefits of this beautiful natural food!
Rhubarb has an extremely tart flavor, so sweeteners are usually added to make it more appealing to our taste buds. Try these healthy alternatives to processed white sugar the next time you are in the mood for some rhubarb!
1) Rhubarb can be enjoyed raw by drizzling wholes or cut stalks with honey, agave nectar or maple syrup. To make as a topping for breakfast cereals or an addition to smoothies, combine 1 cup chopped rhubarb and 1 cup chopped strawberries with 1 tablespoon honey and 1 teaspoon chopped mint. Refrigerate overnight, strain and discard juice.
2) For a new twist on apple or pear sauces, substitute rhubarb for one-third of the apples or pears called for in sauce recipes. Add raisins and freshly grated ginger or cinnamon to boost flavor.
3) Stewing rhubarb in orange or pineapple juice, or with pineapple chunks sweetens it and complements its flavor. for a tropical flavor, add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract to every 2 cups to boost flavor.
4) Rhubarb is great in curry. To create a creamy sauce with a tart note, follow your favorite curry recipe, adding in a stir-fried mix of onions, garlic, ginger and one-quarter to one half cup chopped rhubarb.
Here are a few final thoughts before going on your newly refined rhubarb cooking adventure!
- When fresh, store rhubarb in the refrigerator tightly wrapped for up to three days.
- To freeze rhubarb, cut the stems into chunks or dice finely, depending on use. Lay out on baking sheet and freeze. After rhubarb is frozen, transfer to freezer bag.
- When cooking, use a nonreactive pan, such as anodized aluminum, stainless steel or a glass baking dish. The acidity in the rhubarb reacts with aluminum, iron and copper pans, and it may turn the pan brown.
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Have a great week!
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