Describing rhubarb, some might begin with its long, slender pale green and red stalks, accompanied by large, scalloped green leaves. A few may know it's classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit.
Rhubarb may have gotten its start in Siberia, and is popular throughout Europe and North America. Some might call it excruciatingly sour, which it could be, if not prepared to its greatest advantage.
Rhubarb is compatible with numerous foods, and can be added to a wide array of dishes, making a rhubarb patch a garden essential.
Comparing raw rhubarb with frozen, cooked and sweetened, the nutrients, of course, change. One cup goes from 122 to 240 grams; calories go from 26 to 278 grams; carbohydrates from 6 to 75 grams; and the sugars from 1 gram to 69, although the fiber is only (very) slightly increased. This goes to show how this food (and others, undoubtedly) morph under processing and added sugar.
Rhubarb is most often served cooked in some manner. While you can find recipes featuring raw rhubarb, it often involves soaking it in honey or another natural sweetener. As for the sweetener, which many say rhubarb requires, keeping it natural is always the best rule of thumb, so for optimal healthy eating, keep the sweetener as minimal as possible.
Health Benefits of Rhubarb
It's no surprise if you've ever had rhubarb that fiber is one of its health hallmarks. That's one reason why the root is popular in ancient Chinese medicine for soothing stomach ailments and relieving constipation. But rhubarb also makes an effective poultice for relieving fevers and swelling.
A good thing to remember is that rhubarb leaves are toxic, due to high levels of oxalic acid.
Every serving of rhubarb provides 45% of the daily value in vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and can limit neuronal damage in the brain, even to the point of Alzheimer's prevention. It contains infection-fighter vitamin C, the second most prominent vitamin, along with vitamin A, another powerful natural antioxidant for good skin and mucous membranes, good vision, and possible protection against lung and mouth cancers (the red stalks provide more than the green ones), with healthy additions of folate, riboflavin, niacin, B-vitamins, and pantothenic acid. Good mineral sources include 32% of the daily value in manganese per serving, along with iron, potassium, and phosphorus.
While many believe milk is the best calcium source, one cup of cooked rhubarb contains just as much, and it's actually much better for you. In fact, rhubarb is on the short list with salmon and spinach for the highest amounts of calcium it provides. For more on this topic, see The Milk Myth: What Your Body Really Needs
Rhubarb Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies Done on Rhubarb
Using the premise that rhubarb is one of the oldest and best-known traditional Chinese medicines, researchers tested it against the Coxsackie virus (named for a town in New York) which is also known as foot-and-mouth disease. A rhubarb root extract showed "significant inhibitory" effects against the disease, leading to the conclusion that further health benefits from rhubarb on a broad scale could have potential1.
Rhubarb was shown in another study to convey beneficial gastrointestinal results when given to patients with severe burns, with the result that it eased abdominal distension, promoted regularity, and increased food tolerance2.
Rhubarb Healthy Recipes:
Rhubarb Salad with Goat Cheese
|3/4 pound rhubarb, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
||1/4 cup honey
||1/2 cup walnut halves
|2 tablespoons olive oil
||2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (preferably white)
||Coarse salt and ground pepper
|4 bunches arugula (about 1 pound total), tough ends removed
||1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
||1/2 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss rhubarb with honey. Roast on upper rack until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet. On another rimmed baking sheet, toast walnuts on lower rack until fragrant, 5 minutes. Let cool, then chop.
- In a large bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add arugula and fennel and toss to combine. Top with rhubarb, walnuts, and goat cheese.
Rhubarb Fun Facts
Heralding spring and hardy except in heavy frost, rhubarb is a surprisingly easy-to-grow vegetable. It grows well in fertile, well-drained soil, more successfully from crowns and root stock than from seed. Best partially shaded, it yields an abundant harvest with very little care required and can be refrigerated for several days or sealed in a bag and frozen for months. Don't wash it until you're ready to use it.
Rhubarb is arguably one of the most delicious joys of summer and fall, and one of the most anticipated harbingers of spring. Easy to freeze, you can enjoy it while the snow falls, too. Best of all, the slender red and green stalks contain a singular set of nutrients that make it a healthy vegetable.
In fact, we owe a debt of gratitude to ancient Chinese folk medicine for the background work on rhubarb cures and remedies that today's scientist have substantiated and expanded on: fiber for ease in digestion, vitamin K for healthy bone growth and neuron function in the brain, natural antioxidation from vitamins C and A, as well as anti-infection properties, healthy skin, mucous membranes, vision, and potential cancer protection.
Other vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in rhubarb, including outstanding amounts of calcium, offer essential support and optimal health benefits throughout the body, making this food much more than just a great dessert.