I wait all year long for the arrival of rhubarb — it's easily one of my most favorite signs of spring. Yet, as well-loved as it is, rhubarb tends to be a little misunderstood. There's a lot of mystery behind those funny-looking, pink celery-esque stalks. Here's what you should know.
1. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but also a fruit.
While it's most commonly paired with strawberries, rhubarb actually isn't a fruit. It's technically a vegetable and is in the same family as sorrel. Where it gets confusing is that in 1947, a New York court declared rhubarb a fruit because it's most often cooked as one. So it's sort of both a vegetable and a fruit.
2. The leaves are poisonous.
The leaves of the rhubarb plant contain high levels of oxalyic acid, which is an organic compound that's also found in ink, stain remover, and metal polish. If the leaves are eaten in large quantities, they can close your throat — so definitely cut them off before using rhubarb.
3. It's OK to eat rhubarb raw.
Almost every recipe you see that involves rhubarb calls for cooking it, usually with some sugar, since it's quite tart and acidic. I have a distinct childhood memory of crunching down on raw stalks in my friend's garden and, while I thought for many years I must have been a crazy to do that, I now realize I wasn't — raw rhubarb can actually be delicious!
4. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
It's hard to go wrong with rhubarb pie, crumble, and cake, but don't forget it's also wonderful in savory dishes. Since it's naturally tart, it can brighten up things like braised pork chops and Southern tomato dumplings.
5. It's a good source of a few different nutrients.
Rhubarb is a great source of Vitamin K (useful for blood clotting and bone health) and fiber. It's also been said to be a great source of calcium, but it's important to clarify this: While it's one of the richest vegetable sources of calcium, with one cup containing more calcium than one cup of milk, not all of it is absorbed by the body. Only about a quarter of the calcium is absorbed, so calcium isn't its biggest benefit.