Why is rhubarb often used in dessert recipes?

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first to eat rhubarb did not do well. In the 17th century, the English made the annoying mistake of harvesting and eating the large leaves of the rhubarb plant, which looked a lot like chard, but due to the high levels of oxalic acid, the leaves caused nausea, convulsions, and even death. Not surprisingly, interest in the plant waned for a few hundred years until Europeans discovered that rhubarb stalks were delicious when prepared properly.

The USDA notes that rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family, and is biologically a plant. Since it is almost always cooked with sugar, it is classified as a fruit. Most rhubarb is grown in the United States in the northern states from coast to coast, with Washington, Michigan, and Oregon being the most productive states.

Rhubarb generally appears in dessert recipes such as crunchy strawberry cake or rhubarb cake, although the poisonous leaves look like chard and the stems may remind you of celery. So why does rhubarb appear in dessert recipes?


rhubarb pungent! How pungent is it? Rhubarb juice (which you don’t want to drink) contains only 12 grams of sugar per liter. By comparison, apple juice contains 100-120 grams of sugar per liter. Orange juice comes in at around 130 grams per liter, while grape juice contains around 187 grams of sugar per liter. When you compare rhubarb to other fruits, what you’re missing is sugar. This is why they are sweetened in recipes.

And when you pair rhubarb with sweeter fruits, like strawberries (about 57 grams of sugar per liter), you end up with a deliciously sweet mixture that’s beautifully balanced. Best harvested in late spring or early summer, rhubarb can either provide a refreshing note to other fruit-based dishes, or it can be glistened on its own in jam or jelly, where it is sweetened to perfection. Since rhubarb needs a lot of sugar to taste good, it’s also a great ingredient in recipes that are high in acid. Try adding some rhubarb and strawberries to a shrub for a bright, cheerful vinaigrette that goes into creative cocktails and homemade sodas.

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