Care of Andrea Gourgy
We’re in the throes of rhubarb season here in Ontario, where fresh rhubarb is available anywhere from January through June. And it’s well worth getting better acquainted with rhubarb this season—it’s a good source of potassium, vitamin C and calcium, and contains only 27 calories per one-cup serving.
But long before rhubarb became a staple in our pies, cakes and muffins, it was actually used as a medicinal ingredient. It is one of the most common plants used in Chinese medicine, and is said to balance the digestive system, neutralize stomach acid and relieve constipation. A little more than 200 years ago, rhubarb finally made its way from the medicine cabinet to the kitchen, and people began to look forward to eating rhubarb at a time of year when most produce was not in season yet.
When choosing rhubarb, look for a bright colour and crisp stalks. Rhubarb grown in greenhouses (“hothouse” rhubarb) tends to have a pink or light reddish colour and is milder in taste. Field-grown rhubarb tends to have a deeper red colour and a stronger flavour; field-grown rhubarb also tends to be a bit stringier and may require peeling. Rhubarb should be stored in the fridge. Before using, trim off any blemished areas and always remember to remove the leaves—rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid which can be toxic if eaten. Since rhubarb is naturally quite tart, you’ll find that it is usually sweetened in recipes and often paired with other sweet fruits, such as strawberries, as in the sorbet recipe below.