Though rhubarb is technically a vegetable, it’s unique in that it has both medical benefits and many of the same cooking uses as fruits!
A Dual-Purpose History
The history of rhubarb is one that’s pretty tough to define. Historical research has shown that rhubarb plants and their various uses became known in England for two reasons: medicine and food.
Though there haven’t been any accounts of the first uses of rhubarb in food, accounts from the 1700s have shown that the plant was cultivated almost solely for medicinal purposes.
However, it soon started popping up in several different recipes, particularly desserts. Though the flavor of rhubarb is inherently tart, mixing the vegetable with sugar gives it a much sweeter taste that is enjoyed by many.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, English recipes including the leafstalk, or petioles, started coming appearing. This is likely due to the fact that during this time, sugar became more affordable in England.
It’s thought that rhubarb was used both medicinally and for cooking in America by the 1730s.
The Rhubarb Plant
Due to greenhouse production, rhubarb can be grown pretty much year-round. Those grown in heated greenhouses tend to have a brighter red color and are sweeter-tasting than the wild variety.
Typically, rhubarb is found in temperate climates and is harvested in the mid-late spring. As soon as it’s harvested, the plant is ready to consume.
Rhubarb stalks usually vary in color from red. Some are speckled light pink, while others are green.
Sweet With Sugar
Though rhubarb is a tart plant, it’s usually mixed with sugar. From there, it’s typically added in to pies and other desserts.
Further, rhubarb can be dehydrated and re-hydrated with strawberry juice for the classic strawberry rhubarb pie.
A Delicious Dessert
Once England found cooking uses for rhubarb, they started putting the vegetable into pies and making the classic rhubarb pie.
The dish is now considered traditional to New England cuisine and has several variations that have become increasingly popular throughout history.
As mentioned, strawberry rhubarb pie is a classic dessert treat that is surprisingly sweet and tasty. If you’re looking to use some rhubarb in a dessert, this recipe is a great one to try.
A Quintessentially English Food
Once England began using the stalks for pies and desserts, the plant became incredibly popular.
The rhubarb pie became a cultural dish and is one that plays on the classic sweet-and-tart flavor combinations that are a huge part of historically English meals.
Still A Medical Plant
Even though more and more uses of rhubarb have swayed towards the culinary side, there are still several medicinal purposes that it can take on.
Typically, rhubarb is used for digestive issues, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, diarrhea, and constipation. Sometimes, it’s even used for the preparation of certain gastrointestinal procedures and surgeries.
Additionally, the plant is frequently used for those dealing with kidney issues, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.
An Unassuming Veggie
Though rhubarb may look like just another plant, take a chance to try some of the desserts that take this tart vegetable and make it into a sweet treat.