It’s not always easy to tell a fruit from a vegetable, and in the world of food, you’ll find a lot of people that look at certain fruits as vegetables, and vegetables as fruits. Some people still look at the tomato as a vegetable.
Rhubarb is a good example as well because people can’t tell whether it’s a fruit or vegetable.
Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable from cultivated plants in the genus Rheum in the family Polygonaceae, even though it was legally considered a fruit in a New York court in 1947, as a way to save businesses who imported rhubarb from spending additional money on taxes.
Although it is technically seen as a vegetable, it is put to the same culinary use as fruits by being included in fruit pies, jams, and coulis.
In this article, I’m going to explain in detail why Rhubarb is technically considered a vegetable (and not a fruit), why you should add it to your diet, and what type of rhubarb is actually the best.
Why is Rhubarb a Vegetable?
You’ve probably seen red stalks on a top produce shelf at the grocery store, or perhaps you’ve had some fruits and vegetables delivered to your doorstep, and rhubarb was among them.
Because rhubarb is a plant whose stalks are edible — it’s considered a vegetable.
However, not every part of the rhubarb is edible. While the rhubarb stalks are edible, the leaves are poisonous because of their high concentration of oxalic acid.
This acid is present in many vegetables but generally in non-toxic levels.
If you ate rhubarb leaves, that would not kill you, but eating a significant amount of them can be dangerous.
What Are the Health Benefits of Rhubarb?
Several species and varieties of rhubarb exist, but the most common quality is called culinary rhubarb or garden rhubarb, which is the variety you will typically find in most grocery stores.
Studies on the health benefits of rhubarb are limited, but a few studies that have examined the effects of isolated rhubarb components exist, namely of its nutrients.
As such, it’s possible to infer that rhubarb may have the following benefits:
Rhubarb is a rich source of antioxidants.
The antioxidants in rhubarb include anthocyanins, which are believed to have the capacity to lower blood pressure, improve visual acuity, prevent diabetes, reduce cancer cell proliferation, and more.
Rhubarb is also high in proanthocyanidins, also known as condensed tannins, which may protect the heart and cardiovascular system.
These antioxidants may also be responsible for some of the health benefits associated with the consumption of cocoa, red wine, and fruits.
It May Lower Cholesterol Levels
Because rhubarb stalks are a good source of fiber, they may positively affect your cholesterol.
For example, in one controlled study, men with high levels ate 27 grams of rhubarb-stalk fiber every day for a month. Their total cholesterol dropped by 8% and their LDL (bad) cholesterol by 9%.
However, this is not exclusive to the fiber in rhubarb.
Nutrient Content of Rhubarb
Rhubarb is not rich in essential micronutrients, but its fiber content is high.
Additionally, it is a very good source of vitamin K1, containing about 24% of the daily value per 100 grams of serving, although it may vary based on how it’s cooked.
A 100g serving of rhubarb contains some of the following nutrients:
- Calories: 21 kcal
- Carbohydrates: 4 g
- Protein: 0.9 g
- Total Fat: 0.2 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Dietary Fiber: 1.8 g
- Vitamin K: 29 µg (24% DV)
- Vitamin A: 102 IU (3.5% DV)
- Potassium: 288 mg (6% DV)
- Calcium: 86 mg (8.5% DV)
- Manganese: 0.196 mg (8.5% DV)
Keep in mind that while you have a decent amount of calcium in rhubarb, this vegetable also contains oxalate, which inhibits the absorption of calcium.
How to Eat More Rhubarb
If you’re interested in adding a little more rhubarb to your diet, there are a couple of ways in which you can introduce rhubarb without steaming it all the time.
Here are a few examples of how you can incorporate rhubarb into your diet:
- Make a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
- Use it in sautées or stir-fries
- Include in smoothies
- Roast it and drizzle it with agave or maple syrup
- Sprinkling it with sugar is also an option
Here is a quick video showing you how to nicely cut and cook rhubarb:
Rhubarb is a vegetable from the Polygonaceae family.
While it’s technically a vegetable due to its inherent characteristics (it’s an edible plant with leaves and stalks), it was legally judged to be a fruit in 1947 by a New York court to help businesses avoid paying additional taxes.
If you’re planning to eat rhubarb, keep in mind that the leaves are poisonous because of their high oxalic acid content, so the only edible part is the stalks.
Rhubarb is a rich source of Vitamin K1, Vitamin A, and calcium. But the calcium content is nullified by the oxalate content because it inhibits the absorption of calcium.
How Does Rhubarb Taste?
Raw rhubarb is incredibly tart, which is why a lot of people choose to cook it like a fruit by coupling it with sugar so that the sharp flavor is softened.
Does Rhubarb Need to be Refrigerated?
Rhubarb only lasts a couple of days at room temperature, but by keeping it wrapped in the fridge, you’re able to extend its lifetime by about two weeks.
If you want to maximize its lifetime by up to three weeks, wrap it up in aluminum foil without crimping the ends, and store it in the fridge.
How to Tell if Rhubarb Has Gone Bad?
Rhubarb’s stalks are ruby red with some light green patches here and there. If you notice that the skin begins to darken and turns brown or black, then it’s likely that the rhubarb has expired. Other ways in which you may tell that a rhubarb has gone bad is through its bad smell or if you find mold appearing on both the ends of the stalk.
Keep in mind that rhubarb only lasts a couple of days at room temperature, so it’s probably a good idea to wrap it up in aluminum foil and put it in the fridge.