A Rhubarb Explainer For Everyone Who's Still Confused

Don't let the produce scare you.
Hummingbird High/Apt 2B/Broma Bakery/

My friend Janie lives in Miami and has never eaten rhubarb. I find this deeply upsetting.

The spring months of my childhood in the far reaches of upstate New York were filled with the anticipation that our rhubarb patch would sprout (there wasn’t a lot else to do, OK?). As soon as it did, stalks were turned into silky, tart, buttery pies ― and when I couldn’t wait for the pies to bake, I ate the rhubarb raw, taking tiny, stinging bites that wore the enamel off my teeth and tortured my dentist for years.

Then, one year, our neighbor thought our rhubarb patch was a weed and he choked it out with a can of gasoline.

That tiny bit of trauma may explain why I feel so gutted for Janie, and so many others of you out there who’ve lived rhubarb-less lives. Not only have large portions of our population never eaten rhubarb, but many of those people also have no idea what it even is.

Raw stalks of rhubarb.
Mint Images via Getty Images
Raw stalks of rhubarb.

Words won’t ever do rhubarb justice (I often lazily describe it as “red celery”), but here’s my best attempt at explaining it to those who’ve never tasted it:

  • Rhubarb is baked into desserts as though it’s a fruit, but it’s technically a vegetable (though in 1947, a New York court legally declared rhubarb a fruit because it’s most often cooked that way). It looks a lot like celery, but with streaks of pink and red running through it.

  • It’s grown mostly in northern climates and does not do well in the hot, dry summers of the South.

  • As mentioned in my dental records above, rhubarb is achingly sour. Fortunately, it cooks down into something more palatable with a bit of sugar, but it’s still got major zing. That’s why it’s often paired with sweet strawberries.

  • Be warned: The leaves of the plant are poisonous, and eating them can result in breathing difficulties, stomach pain or other unpleasant reactions. You should only eat the stalks.

  • Rhubarb can be made into almost anything: In my culinary school final, I stewed it and served it alongside a roasted duck (which I also glazed with rhubarb syrup). But it’s usually used in sweet preparations like pies, crumbles, cocktails, doughnuts and cakes.

We’ve got a ton of recipes below, so pick your poison. (Or rather, pick your poison-less stalks that come from a plant with poisonous leaves.)

Rhubarb And Honey Panna Cotta
Apt 2B
Rhubarb Fritters
Not Without Salt
Get the Rhubarb Fritters recipe from Not Without Salt.
Rhubarb Bars
Broma Bakery
Get the Rhubarb Bars recipe from Broma Bakery.
Rhubarb-Wrapped Pineapple Cake
Sprinkle Bakes
Get the Rhubarb-Wrapped Pineapple Cake recipe from Sprinkle Bakes.
Baked Buttermilk Doughnuts With A Strawberry Rhubarb Brown Butter Glaze
Adventures in Cooking
Rhubarb and White Chocolate Blondies
Hummingbird High
Get the Rhubarb And White Chocolate Blondies recipe from Hummingbird High.
Easy Pickled Rhubarb
Girl Versus Dough
Get the Easy Pickled Rhubarb recipe from Girl Versus Dough.
Individual Rhubarb Tarts With Pistachios, Berries, & Shortbread Crust
Will Cook For Friends
Rhubarb Scone Sandwiches With Vanilla Bean Glaze
A Cozy Kitchen
Rhubarb Tart
Baking A Moment
Get the Rhubarb Tart recipe from Baking A Moment.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars
Cooking Classy
Get the Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars recipe from Cooking Classy.
Persian Meringue Nests With Rhubarb Curd
Butter And Brioche
Rhubarb And Orange Blossom Cake
Delicious Everyday
Get the Rhubarb And Orange Blossom Cake recipe from Delicious Everyday.
Rhubarb Custard Tart
Pastry Affair
Get the Rhubarb Custard Tart recipe from Pastry Affair.
Strawberry Rhubarb Rose Galettes
The Bojon Gourmet
Get the Strawberry Rhubarb Rose Galettes recipe from The Bojon Gourmet.
Rhubarb Custard Tea Cake
Eat Little Bird
Get the Rhubarb Custard Tea Cake recipe from Eat Little Bird.
Rhubarb, Raspberry And Dark Chocolate Bread And Butter Cake
The Brick Kitchen
Rhubarb Panna Cotta Tart
Hummingbird High
Get the Rhubarb Panna Cotta Tart recipe from Hummingbird High.
Rhubarb Float
Our Seasonal Table
Get the Rhubarb Float recipe from Our Seasonal Table.
Rhubarb Ginger Muffins
Pastry Affair
Get the Rhubarb Ginger Muffins recipe from Pastry Affair.
Rhubarb And Rose Hand Pies
Hummingbird High
Get the Rhubarb And Rose Hand Pies recipe from Hummingbird High.
Rhubarb Curd With Pie Crust Crumble And Vanilla Meringues
Hummingbird High
Rhubarb Buckle
Alexandra Cooks
Get the Rhubarb Buckle recipe from Alexandra Cooks.
Rhubarb Ginger Bars
Pastry Affair
Get the Rhubarb Ginger Bars recipe from Pastry Affair.
Rhubarb And Rose Ramos Gin Fizz
James Ransom/Food52
Get the Rhubarb and Rose Ramos Gin Fizz recipe from The Dog's Breakfast via Food52.
Individual Apple & Rhubarb Pies
Delicious Everyday
Get the Individual Apple & Rhubarb Pies recipe from Delicious Everyday.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Stuffed French Toast
Completely Delicious
Get the Strawberry-Rhubarb Stuffed French Toast recipe from Completely Delicious.
Strawberry Rhubarb And Tarragon Tarte Tartin
Adventures in Cooking
Get the Strawberry Rhubarb and Tarragon Tarte Tartin recipe from Adventures in Cooking.
Raspberry Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding
Rhubarb Toaster Strudel
A Beautiful Mess
Get the Rhubarb Toaster Strudel recipe from A Beautiful Mess.
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