Healthy Eating – The Benefits of Rhubarb
Rhubarb is botanically recognised as Rheum rhabarbarum and is a member of the Polygonaceae family. The leaves of Rhubarb are toxic but they are also bitter. It is thought that for the amount needed to produce toxic effect one could not handle eating it at that level. Needless to say the leaves of Rhubarb are not edible.
The stalks of rhubarb are the edible part of the plant. It grows similar to silverbeet with deep red stalks eaten as both a sweet and savoury food. It is often assumed that rhubarb is a fruit because it is most commonly used in sweet dishes such as pies, jams and tarts but rhubarb is in fact a vegetable – used in sweet dishes. A fruit is the portion of a plant that contains the seeds, since it is the stalks we eat on rhubarb it is incorrect calling it a fruit. Though happenings in America in the late 1940’s declared that because it was used as a sweet food it should be declared a fruit. I have always referred to it as a stalk or simply a vegetable.
Rhubarb grows throughout summer in cooler areas but can be grown throughout the year if grown in a hothouse protected from cold and frost.
Historically the first mention of rhubarb appears to be in china where reports date it back to beyond 2500BC. Rhubarb made its first appearance in America during the early 1800’s.
Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin C and also contains calcium and fibre. It is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin K and Vitamin E. Rhubarb is also contains B group vitamins – Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic acid and Folate. Rhubarb is low in fat and contains Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Iron and Sodium.
Rhubarb has many uses in both sweet and savoury dishes. It is typically blended with other sweet foods such as apple or berries. Rhubarb has a bitter taste which many find unpleasant on its own. If consumed on its own it is usually combined with sugar or honey to add sweetness and flavour.
Apple and Rhubarb Pies are common. The rhubarb can be stewed with apple or each ingredient cooked separately and combined in the pie.
Rhubarb and mixed berry tarts are another favourite. The berries add much flavour and colour while the rhubarb adds to the nutrient content and adds a mildly bitter taste and texture.
Health wise, Rhubarb is a powerful laxative and has been used by the Chinese for centuries to maintain regular bowel habits. Rhubarb is also good for the heart and may assist in lowering cholesterol.