Rhubarb has an amazing flavour spectrum – it’s sour and acidic, but when balanced with sweetness, it’s tart and refreshing all at once.
Delicious in both sweet and savoury dishes, rhubarb is also a nutritious source of potassium, helping to keep our blood pressure healthy and our muscles functioning properly.
There are two different types of rhubarb: forced and naturally grown. Forced rhubarb is brighter pink in colour, has delicious spindly shoots and is much more tender, with less stringiness. It also holds its shape better when cooked. And, of course, by forcing it to grow, you get to enjoy rhubarb about six to eight weeks before the natural season’s crop.
While it’s in season, pick up a glut. Look for firm stems and remember to remove any inedible leaves, then keep a roasted batch in your fridge at all times. It’s great for making quick desserts like crumble or simply served with yoghurt or custard. Here are some of our favourite ways with lovely rhubarb.
It only takes five minutes to stew up some rhubarb, so it’s great to serve as a dessert, stirred into cold Greek yoghurt with lovely toasted mixed nuts sprinkled over the top, or for a Sunday breakfast, spooned on top of pancakes with a drizzle of honey.
Rhubarb isn’t just for sweet meals, it’s incredible in savoury dishes too. The acidity and flavour of the rhubarb makes for an incredible sauce, which is used to stew this pork belly until deliciously tender. It’s incredible!
Rhubarb and sweet stem ginger is a winning combo, and these tasty little muffins make for a great teatime treat.
For a British seasonal twist on the classic peach bellini, stew rhubarb with a little sugar, then serve topped up with Prosecco. Refreshing with a delicious tang.
This is a classic friendship and genius combination – rippled together in ice cream, or served simply as a bowl of hot stewed rhubarb and custard, it’s an old comforting favourite.
Feeling inspired? Check out our Vegepedia – it’s all about the wonderful world of veg, and we’ve packed it with tips, recipes and nutrition to get you started.
One batch of roasted rhubarb, four different recipe ideas
R eading about rhubarb makes me love these vegetable stalks posturing as a fruit even more than I already thought I did. Siberian in origin, rhubarb as a medicinal rootstock made its journey west via passage up the river Volga sometime in the 16th century. Reaching Europe in or around the 1800s, gardeners in Britain and France were soon growing rhubarb for ornamental use. It wasn’t long before Queen Victoria had her very own variety cultivated in honour of her coronation. The gap in the northern European soft fruit-growing calendar meant rhubarb readily took off as a popular culinary ingredient.
Cooked into a variety of sweets from pies to fools to crumbles, rhubarb also makes excellent jam, jelly and cordial (syrup). For me, however, rhubarb really sings when served as a condiment for savoury foods. Made into a piquant relish or chutney, or roasted and served alongside some oily fish (soused or fried) or a roasted piece of pork, it’s fruity sour snap makes an intriguing match for so many flavours.
Whether you choose the bright-pink forced rhubarb (available between January and March) or wait until late spring/early summer for the outdoor crop with dark-green stems flecked pink or deep red, make sure to select firm, skinny stems with no holes or blemishes. Be sure to remove the leaves as these are poisonous and contain toxic oxalic acid, which can be harmful if ingested.
Jane Grigson, in her Fruit Book, writes of eating raw rhubarb: “Sitting with my sister on a doorstep, each with a stick of rhubarb and a saucer of sugar between us. We dipped and chewed, dipped and chewed in the warm sun. ” A sort of sour-sweet lollypop: try this with any spare raw stalks.
5 ways with rhubarb beyond the crumble
Rhubarb is a national hero of a fruit (although it’s actually a stalk vegetable). When it first pops up on menus and its shockingly colourful stalks are spotted at farmers markets, you know the season has changed. Spring has arrived. To celebrate the happy news and arrival of beautiful British ‘barb, here are few ways you can enjoy in its tartness beyond custard and crumbles.
Available from January to late March/early April, forced rhubarb is grown in the dark in the wonderfully named ‘rhubarb triangle’, the area around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. They can grow up to 5cm a day in the controlled light and soil conditions that give forced rhubarb its glorious bright pink hue, white flesh and delicate, sharp flavour. And if you’re anything like Nigel Slater when he was a kid, you’ll love slicing off a thumb of the pink-stuff and casually dipping it into brown sugar for a quick tangy hit – a bit like a stripped-back sherbet dip.
Farmdrop’s forced rhubarb is cultivated by fifth generation farmers E. Oldroyd & Sons at their farm in Yorkshire and is distributed by Mash Purveyors – London’s 150 year-old family run suppliers the finest of fruit and vegetables. Grown in complete darkness and cultivated by candlelight, “to avoid photosynthesis turning them green and tough (rhubarb grown outdoors in the summer has a more acidic and harsh flavour)”, says farmer and family member Janet Oldroyd whose father used to cultivate the land, there’s tales of ‘hearing’ the creaks and crackles of its stalks moving up the soil.
Having received the top award with European Food Status of a Product of Designated Origin (PDO), British rhubarb is recognised by chefs and has garnered international repute: “our rhubarb tastes better and is grown in this specific way to give it its quality and flavour. The world knows the best rhubarb comes from this area” Janet explains.
So, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got your hands on some of the world’s best ‘barb, here’s a few tips and tricks to get you scoring gold stars in the kitchen too.
Photography by Hannah Briggs of rhubarb at E. Oldroyd and Sons.
Delightfully easy, this is great if you’re short on time, or just can’t wait get stuck into it’s bright stalks. Slice rhubarb into chunky batons and place in a pan with equal parts sugar and water, lemon juice and zest. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and poach for 5 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream for a cool take on rhubarb and custard. Try your hand at our Rhubarb & Black Pepper Compote for a spicy twist.
Throw together the usual pickle suspects sugar, cider vinegar, salt, ginger, peppercorns, chillies and bay leaves, boil up and pop into jars. Serve with crumbly cheese, charcuterie or oily fish such as mackerel or sardines – it’ll cut through the fat nicely. New to pickling? Try our easy and fresh-tasting rhubarb pickle that’s got a little poke too.
A great one to serve up with freshly pan fried fish, start with poaching method. Add a little fish stock, reduce for 5 minutes and push through a sieve. Reheat before serving and whisk in a generous knob of butter – this will give it good gloss. You can try this with veg stock and serve with pork.
Let the rhubarb shine in this simple, four ingredient sweet treat. Simmer gently 3 parts of rhubarb cut into chunks with 2 parts caster sugar and 1 part water with a little lemon juice until soft. Leave the mixture to cool and blitz in a blender until smooth. Use an ice cream maker to chill and then place in the tub in the freezer. Or place in a tub and stir up with a fork every hour for up to 6 hours and you’ll have a tantalising, granita-like texture. Each flavour-packed scoop will get you hooked (and forgetting about ice cream).
Perfect to enjoy after a Sunday lunch, place batons in a dish in a hot oven with shavings of orange zest and a little juice until softened but still hold their shape. Now, we know there’s more to rhubarb than crumble, but we won’t deny you a classic (we love them too)! Shake it up with crunchy nuts and fresh ginger in our Rhubarb Gingernut Crumble. Dollop baked rhubarb on french toast and pancakes, or on muesli with yoghurt.
Find out more on Mash Purveyors and their latest crop of produce on the shop.
Watch the rhubarb being harvested by candlelight at the Olroyd family farm as featured by the BBC.
Rhubarb 5 Ways
I’ve always been fascinated by nutrient-packed rhubarb. It looks like a large piece of red celery, is incredibly tart and is a frequent dessert star. But don't limit rhubarb to the sweets table -- there are quite a few things to do with this quintessential spring goodie. If you’ve never experienced this pleasingly sour plant, try it! Here are 5 different ways.
Sweet strawberries are a common foil for tart rhubarb, but a hazelnut topping adds sweetness to this springy crumble. A few spoonfuls of this warm, crunchy dessert is all you need.
Chocolate and rhubarb – what a fantastically unexpected pair. Cut brownies into small squares for bite-sized portions. This recipe is at the top of my list when I bring rhubarb home from the farmers market!
Leave it to Claire Robinson to come up with such a simple (and low calorie) rhubarb-infused sauce. Drizzle on grilled fish or roasted veggies.
This spicy condiment is sweet, tart and full of bold flavor. Serve it with pork, chicken, shrimp or cheese and some crusty whole grain bread.
This decadent cocktail is made with sugar, vodka, cognac and ice cream. Keep servings to just one of these babies or save some calories and share with a buddy.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »
How to choose the right rhubarb
Choose rhubarb with straight, crisp, well-coloured stalks and unblemished leaves. Be sure to compost the leaves – they contain oxalic acid and can be toxic.
In the store: The bright pink type of rhubarb with curly, chartreuse coloured leaves has become popular in the last few years. This is a “forced” rhubarb grown in hot houses, and type of rhubarb is grown to force the stalks to shoot up looking for light. This forced growth produces a milder flavoured, beautifully coloured variety of the vegetable.
In your garden: The darker red garden varieties have a more assertive, tannic quality and sometimes can lose their colour when cooked, but this is the kind of rhubarb you want to dip into sugar on a warm spring day and munch on raw.
The process of forcing rhubarb really could not be simpler. Here is a step by step guide to walk you through it:
Identify a mature rhubarb crown that you would like to force.
Clear the area around the base of the crown, removing dead leaves and any weeds that have accumulated.
Add a thick mulch of homemade compost or well-rotted manure around the plant. This will boost the nutrient levels in the soil and help make sure that the plant can grow well. But make sure you do not bury the crown or it can rot.
Find something to cover your rhubarb plant. You might use a bin, a large plant pot, or another reclaimed container of some kind. If using a plant pot, remember to plug the holes in the base to exclude all the light. Remember, the goal is to exclude light, so avoid using a clear or light coloured vessel.
Traditionally, the below terracotta rhubarb forcing jars have been used, but they are difficult to source and the same results can be achieved with a tall upturned plant pot.
In colder areas, and to speed up the process, it is also a good idea to insulate the outside of the container you have chosen to exclude the light. You could use reclaimed materials like bubble wrap from a package you have received.
Once 8 weeks or so have elapsed, look underneath the covering container. You should see a number of pale stems.
Your forced rhubarb will look like the rhubarb on the left on the image below. On the right is conventionally grown rhubarb with the lush green foliage.
Gently pull the rhubarb stalks away from the base and prepare them and eat them in whatever way you wish. We share some rhubarb recipe ideas below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer, permaculture designer and green living consultant. She is a practical, hands-on gardener, with a background in philosophy: (an MA in English-Philosophy from St Andrews University). She has long had an interest in ecology, gardening and sustainability and is fascinated by how thought can generate action, and ideas can generate positive change.
In 2014, she and her husband moved to their forever home in the country. She graduated from allotment gardening to organically managing 1/3 of an acre of land, including a mature fruit orchard,which she has turned into a productive forest garden. The yield from the garden is increasing year on year – rapidly approaching an annual weight in produce of almost 1 ton.
She has filled the rest of the garden with a polytunnel, a vegetable patch, a herb garden, a wildlife pond, woodland areas and more. Since moving to the property she has also rescued many chickens from factory farms, keeping them for their eggs, and moved much closer to self-sufficiency. She has made many strides in attracting local wildlife and increasing biodiversity on the site.
When she is not gardening, Elizabeth spends a lot of time working remotely on permaculture garden projects around the world. Amongst other things, she has designed private gardens in regions as diverse as Canada, Minnesota, Texas, the Arizona/California desert, and the Dominican Republic, commercial aquaponics schemes, food forests and community gardens in a wide range of global locations.
In addition to designing gardens, Elizabeth also works in a consultancy capacity, offering ongoing support and training for gardeners and growers around the globe. She has created booklets and aided in the design of Food Kits to help gardeners to cool and warm climates to grow their own food, for example. She is undertaking ongoing work for NGO Somalia Dryland Solutions and a number of other non governmental organisations, and works as an environmental consultant for several sustainable companies.
Urban Kitchen Gardener: 5 ways with rhubarb
Our resident Urban Kitchen Gardener Tom Moggach is back with ways to brighten up your day with forced rhubarb.
The dazzling neon-pink of forced rhubarb is a wonder - and lifts the spirits in these winter months. Some lucky souls grow their own or treat yourself to some from forcing sheds of the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire, where the absence of daylight tricks the plants into believing it's spring and time to grow.
Five ideas for rhubarb
- Pair cooked rhubarb with oily fish such as mackerel or fatty cuts of meat - duck or pork belly is ideal.
- Poach the stems in a sugar syrup, infusing the syrup with spices such as vanilla, stem ginger or star anise.
- Try in crumbles, muffins, trifles or a frangipane tart.
- Use in sorbets, jellies or ice cream.
- If you&rsquore feeling adventurous, note that rhubarb is used in some savoury Persian recipes, too. Search for the meat dish &lsquoKhoresh Rivas&rsquo online and give it a go!
Recipe for baked forced rhubarb
This is a simple method for cooking forced rhubarb. This can be served hot or cold. Lovely with custard as a dessert or granola for breakfast.
Cut the rhubarb into equal lengths, then arrange in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with plenty of brown sugar, add a splash of orange juice then wrap tightly in foil. (Some optional chopped stem ginger adds a gentle heat). Bake at 180°C until the rhubarb is tender but still holds it shape - around 20-25 minutes.
Take a look into Tom&rsquos career to date and read his Roots To Work Interview. Or explore the best ways to cook squash.
5 of our favourite rhubarb recipes
With its shocking pink colour and tart sweetness, rhubarb provides a welcome hit of bright, sweet flavour during the UK’s colder months. Here are our favourite ways to cook with the vibrant stalks.
Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.
Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.
Rhubarb looks like it comes from tropical climes, particularly the bright pink forced variety. It comes in stalks, like celery, but has a strong, tart flavour. With the addition of heat and sugar, however, it goes from being nearly inedible to one of Britain’s most interesting, flavourful vegetables (it’s technically not a fruit, despite most commonly used in desserts).
It’s a very seasonal ingredient, arriving at the beginning of January and then again in the spring. The first harvest is the one that gets chefs and cooks truly excited, as it’s a truly unique ingredient that’s only found in Yorkshire (and has held a PDO since 2010). ‘Forced’ rhubarb, as it is known, is generally only found in a place called The Rhubarb Triangle, an area of rhubarb growers based between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. Every November, young rhubarb plants are taken from the fields into long, heated sheds, where they’re kept in the dark. The warmth prompts the plants to start growing stalks, which are particularly tender, sweet and bright pink (although the leaves are generally yellow due to the lack of light).
Whether you’ve got your hands on the forced rhubarb of winter or are overwhelmed with a glut of stalks in the springtime, there are plenty of delicious ways to cook with it that go above and beyond the classic crumble. Take a look at some of our favourite recipes below, and be sure to check out our full collection of rhubarb dishes for more rose-tinted inspiration.
Oatmeal-coated mackerel with rhubarb
Oily fish and tart fruit is an old pairing and a very good one. Gooseberries are good in summer, but at this time of year lightly poached rhubarb does the trick. This works well with herring, too. Serves two.
150g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-4cm lengths
15g caster sugar
1 pinch fresh thyme leaves (optional)
2 fillets from 1 large mackerel (or 4 smaller fillets)
100g medium oatmeal
Rapeseed or sunflower oil, for frying
30g butter (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the rhubarb, sugar, thyme (if using) and a tablespoon of water into a saucepan, and cook gently, barely simmering and partly covered, for five to seven minutes. Don't stir the rhubarb or it will lose its shape. When tender, remove from the heat.
Season the fish all over. Spread out the oatmeal on a plate and coat the fillets in it, pressing it on well. (If the oatmeal doesn't stick, brush the fillets with a little milk and try again.) Gently shake off any excess.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the coated mackerel fillets skin-side down and cook for two minutes. Carefully flip over and cook for a minute or two more, until cooked through. If you like, add a knob of butter at the last minute and, as it sizzles and foams, swirl it around and spoon over the fish – this enriches the crust. Transfer to warmed plates and serve with a spoonful of compote, good bread and/or a green salad.
5 Ways to Use this Fantastic Roasted Rhubarb Recipe
This single rhubarb recipe will go the distance in your kitchen.
My go-to rhubarb recipe is really simple, nearly effortless and incredibly versatile. The result? Tender chunks of rhubarb in a rosy pink syrup you can use for a special breakfast or springtime dessert. Here&aposs the recipe𠅊nd then five great ways to use it:
Simple Roasted Rhubarb:
Trim 1 pound of fresh rhubarb and cut it into 1/2-inch chunks. (I like to cut the stalks on the bias.) Toss the rhubarb with 1 cup of granulated sugar. Transfer the rhubarb to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and refrigerate until the rhubarb begins to release its juices and the sugar is nearly dissolved, 2 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 300°. Stir the rhubarb to coat it evenly in its juices. Cover the baking dish with a piece of damp parchment and roast the rhubarb until tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack and cool the rhubarb in its syrup. Makes 2 cups roasted rhubarb in syrup.
1. Make a boozy rhubarb sorbet.
In a blender, combine 2 cups roasted rhubarb in syrup with 3/4 cup water and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice. Puree until smooth, scraping the container as needed, about 2 minutes. Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a medium bowl and whisk in 1/2 cup Brut Prosecco and refrigerate until chilled. Transfer to an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer&aposs directions. Makes 4 1/2 cups sorbet.
2. Add a sweet-tart pop of pink to your dessert.
While it&aposs pretty terrific on its own, why not spoon this roasted rhubarb over a slice of lemon tart, rice pudding, or in place of the strawberries on this amazing cornmeal-almond cake with mascarpone?
3. Bake a springtime version of a great crumb cake.
Start with this recipe for crumb coffee cake and use 1 cup well-drained roasted rhubarb in place of the chopped apples.
4. Make an Instragram-worthy toast.
Top a thick slice of toasted sourdough bread with a generous schmear of cream cheese or fresh ricotta and a pinch of salt and pepper. Top with 1/4 cup drained rhubarb and drizzle the toast with a little of the rhubarb syrup.
5. Dress up plain Greek yogurt.
Put a generous dollop of Greek yogurt into a bowl and top with a few spoonfuls of roasted rhubarb, roasted salted pistachios and a drizzle of honey.
It's easy to infuse sugar syrup with whole spices or even herbs. Whole cardamom, cloves, vanilla and star anise all make good flavour pairings with rhubarb. Simply add the chosen spice or herb to the sugar syrup as it comes to the boil.
Different flavours can also be introduced by tweaking the type of sugar used in the syrup, or by substituting water for other flavoured liquid. For example, Anna Hansen poaches rhubarb in 250ml orange juice with 80g Demerara sugar. Bear in mind, though, that substituting water for orange juice will change the sugar level in the syrup which is why ratios may need to be tweaked.
Rhubarb can also be made in a sous vide machine. Seal the sugar, water and rhubarb in a vacuum bag and cook the rhubarb at 60°C for 20 minutes.