Key Ingredient

By Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga

Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Rhubarb pairs well with the flavors of strawberry
and ginger. The combination is common in preserves.

At the height of strawberry season comes the start of rhubarb season. Although we may not be clamoring for this unique celery-like produce, this is the time of year to give rhubarb a closer look.

Strawberry-rhubarb pie is probably the most popular means of utilizing this intensely tart but fruity spring treat, also referred to as pieplant. Ginger is another complement to rhubarb. The pairing can be found in compotes, jams and savory sauces.

The milder, pale red hothouse varieties are generally available year-round, but the ruby red field-grown variety is only available now through June.

The basics: The long, red, celery-like stalks of a plant related to buckwheat and sorrel, rhubarb is often mistaken for a fruit, but it is actually a very old vegetable. It originated in Asia more than 2,000 years ago. It was initially used for medicinal purposes and because of its purgative qualities, it served as a natural laxative. It wasn't until the 18th century that Westerners started cultivating rhubarb for cooking.

Selecting: Choose sturdy, crisp looking stalks with rich, deep-red color. Stalks are sold in bunches or individually. Avoid dried out or wilted stalks. Generally, the thicker the stalk the more tart the flavor. Mature stalks will also have a tougher, fibrous texture.

Storing: Rhubarb is highly perishable. Keep stalks refrigerated, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.

Use: If leaves are attached, remove before using. The leaves are toxic. Wash and peel off any coarse, stringy covering -- although complete peeling is unnecessary. Because of its intensely tart flavor, rhubarb cannot be consumed raw and is generally combined with a hefty amount of sugar. Thus, it is predominantly used in desserts and preserves.

Where to buy: Fresh rhubarb should start appearing in market stalls this month, usually next to the chard and collard greens. It's a bit pricey, costing about $5 to $7 a pound.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Contact Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga
online at

Asterisk (*) after nutritional analyses
indicates calculations by
Joannie Dobbs of Exploring New Concepts,
a nutritional consulting firm.

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