The name rhubarb comes from the Latin reubarbarum, which means "barbaric root". Maybe it was so named because of its quite barbaric effect on the intestines...
Rhubarb comes from China, but it is also thought to have grown in Russia, Siberia, and Mongolia. It is certain that the Chinese used it in medicine thousands of years before our time.
How did it reach Europe? No-one knows, but no doubt in the luggage of explorers, possibly the bags of Marco Polo. In any case, it was long used for its purgative virtues, along with senna, hence the expression: "Pass me the rhubarb, and I'll pass you the senna".
It was only in the 17th century in England that rhubarb was first used in cooking. In North America, it was referred to as pie plant in the early 19th century and was mainly used, as this name suggests, for making pies.
Very firm, fleshy, bright color, without spots. The stalks should snap cleanly:
the film and filaments covering the stalks should come away easily when pulled, and juice should ooze from the break.
Fresh rhubarb is sold in bunches.
It is also available frozen, peeled, washed, and cut into chunks or diced.
Rhubarb should be carefully peeled before use.
It is cut into chunks and then blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water to reduce its tartness. Macerating it in sugar has the same effect.
Vacuum-cooking it with sugar works very well. Otherwise, it can be poached in syrup. It can be cooked to make jam, compote, and coulis, sometimes mixed with other fruits. It used to make pies, crumbles, and clafoutis, and can be made into ice cream, sorbet, granita, and mousse.
Rhubarb is also used in savory recipes, in chutneys to accompany meat and poultry, or stewed. Poached in a little honey to sweeten it, it can be added to salads. It can be mixed with other vegetables, and even potatoes like they do in Poland. It is not bad in tagines either.
Fresh rhubarb will keep in the refrigerator or cold room for 2–3 days at 4 °C, wrapped in a damp paper towel. Otherwise, the stems will soon soften.
Rhubarb is low in carbohydrates, and contains no protein or fat. It is very rich in fiber, which is why it has always been used to help with constipation problems. It also contains minerals, B vitamins, vitamin K, and some vitamin C.
The leaves are so rich in oxalic acid that they can act as a poison. This is why they must never be eaten.
The stalks also contain some oxalic acid, which means that they cannot be eaten by people suffering from lithiasis (calculi).
The usual method of preparing rhubarb is by adding a fairly large amount of sugar, which obviously changes its nutritional value.
There are around twenty varieties of rhubarb, mostly derived from cross-breeding.
. Green-stalk rhubarb: Common rhubarb (quite tart), Goliath, Mira, Victoria.
. Red-stalk rhubarb: Frambozen rood, Red Monarch, Sutton's seedless, Valentine (the sweetest).
. Rhubarb with green and red stalks: Mikoot, Red Champagne (less acidic).
Rhubarb is available from April through June and then in September and October.