Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable (it's related to sorrel and dock) but its thick, fleshy stalks are treated as a fruit, despite their tart flavour.
Rhubarb grows in two crops. The first, forced rhubarb, arrives early in the year and is grown under pots in what's known as the 'Rhubarb Triangle' around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. Its stalks are watermelon pink in colour with pale, lime-green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two.
The second, called maincrop rhubarb, is grown outdoors and arrives in spring. Its stalks are deeper red and tinged with green, while its leaves are bright green. It has a more intense flavour and robust texture than the forced variety.
Although it can be eaten raw, rhubarb tends to be too tart this way, and it's usually best when cooked with plenty of sugar. It goes well with both ginger and strawberries.
Choose the best
Go for firm, crisp, plump stalks with perky leaves and good colour.
Rhubarb leaves contain a poison called oxalic acid, so should never be eaten – cut them off and discard. Maincrop rhubarb can sometimes have tough, stringy ribs, so after washing it, strip these off with a small, sharp knife and slice the stalk thinly or thickly as required. Forced rhubarb should be tender enough not to need peeling – just wash, then trim the top and bottom of the stalks and slice.
Rhubarb wilts quite quickly – store it in the fridge and eat within a couple of days. Keep the leaves on until you're ready to eat it, as they'll help keep it fresh.
Stew or poach (8-10 mins) or roast (15 mins for forced, 20 for maincrop) rhubarb. Use it to make crumbles, pies or jam. Roast and purée to make rhubarb fool.
Rhubarb can also be added to savoury dishes, as its tartness can stand up to fatty meats like pork and duck well. Try it with pork chops, rhubarb & grains in a new twist on a traybake, or raw and finely chopped as a salsa to go with pan-seared duck breasts and greens.
Watch our video on how to prepare and cook rhubarb:
Discover our rhubarb recipe collection.