Rhubarb Basics to Know for the Best Spring Eats

Springtime is rhubarb time! Fans of rhubarb adore how it brings the tart factor to seasonal desserts and unexpected tang to savory dishes. Whether you prepare rhubarb for pie or other rhubarb recipes, here's everything you need to know during rhubarb season.

Take full advantage of rhubarb season this year! Those pink and green stalks add big flavor and color to spring recipes. They can go sweet or savory, like in our strawberry rhubarb pie or rhubarb pulled pork. We'll break down the basics of cooking with rhubarb so that you'll know how to prep it and how to select good rhubarb at the store or farmers market. We include tips on freezing rhubarb to save those fresh flavors for later in the year in some of our best rhubarb recipes.

Better Homes & Gardens
Brie Passano

What Is Rhubarb?

Because the stalks of rhubarb most often make their way into dessert recipes, rhubarb salsa, and other sweets, many people think rhubarb is a fruit. However, as a member of the buckwheat family, rhubarb is a vegetable. Two types of rhubarb make their way into markets: They are the hothouse and field-grown rhubarb varieties.

Hothouse Rhubarb

This variety has pink to pale-red stalks with greenish-yellow leaves, and it's the type you'll usually find at the grocery store. If you aren't blessed with a rhubarb plant in your yard and need to know where to buy rhubarb, check the produce section at your local grocery store during the spring months. Out of season, you'll be hard-pressed to find rhubarb outside the frozen aisle.

Field-Grown Rhubarb

This seasonal variety of rhubarb is more intensely flavored and is distinguished by its dark red stalks and green leaves. It's a farmers market favorite from April to June.

Test Kitchen Tip: If you find rhubarb too tart for your tastes, look for rhubarb recipes that bring some sweet fruits to the mix. Strawberry-rhubarb is a classic combination in pies, crisps, and other desserts.

Is Rhubarb Poisonous?

Rhubarb stalks—both raw and cooked—are totally safe to eat. However, you should never eat rhubarb leaves; they contain oxalic acid, which makes them poisonous and could lead to kidney failure.

Best-Ever Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Andy Lyons

When Is Rhubarb in Season?

Hothouse rhubarb is available year-round in some markets. However, field-grown rhubarb is available from February through June, with a peak season of April through June. Since peak rhubarb season is so short, you'll want to take advantage of it by making your favorite rhubarb recipes while you can. You can always find frozen rhubarb in the freezer section of grocery stores when you're in a pinch.

Stalks of fresh rhubarb
Blaine Moats

How to Choose Rhubarb

Look for crisp stalks that are firm and tender. Avoid rhubarb stalks that look wilted, feel woody, or are very thick. Aside from the flavor differences between hothouse rhubarb and field-grown rhubarb, the color of the stalks doesn't have much impact on taste. For the tenderest, sweetest stalks, look for firm young stalks that are less than two inches wide.

If you have a rhubarb patch of your own, here's how to get it from the soil to your kitchen:

  • Harvest the stalks in spring and early summer. The stalks at the outer edge of the plant can be pulled off at the soil line when the leaves are fully open and developed.
  • Take hold of the stalk close to the soil line and give a slight twist as you pull. Never take more than about a third of the stalks at one time.
  • Stop harvesting rhubarb before midsummer and let the plant continue to grow.

How to Store Rhubarb

Cut off and discard any leaves from the rhubarb stalks (if present). To store rhubarb stalks, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or reusable storage bags and refrigerate for up to three days.

Person chopping rhubarb
Kritsada Panichgul

How to Prepare Rhubarb

Before cooking, trim the stalks at the top and bottom. As mentioned above, discard any leaves, because they're poisonous. Cut away and discard any tough, woody, or bruised parts of the stalks. Wash the stalks thoroughly and scrub with a vegetable brush. You don't need to peel peak-season rhubarb, but by midsummer, the stalks tend to be tough and fibrous. You might need to peel them to make them tastier.

Test Kitchen Tip: Yes, you can eat rhubarb raw, just avoid the poisonous leaves.

Rhubarb in pot on stove
Jason Donnelly

How to Freeze Rhubarb

If you have more rhubarb than you can use in the next few days, lucky you! Rhubarb freezes well. Here's how to freeze rhubarb step-by-step.

Step 1: Clean

Discard leaves and woody ends. Wash rhubarb with cool tap water, but do not soak. Drain.

Step 2: Cut

Arrange the stalks parallel on a cutting board. Using a sharp, long-bladed knife (such as a chef's knife), cut the stalks into ½- to 1-inch pieces or as directed in your recipe.

Step 3: Blanch (optional)

Fill your sink or a large container with ice water. Then fill a large pot with water, using one gallon of water per one pound of prepared rhubarb. Bring the pot of water to boiling. Add prepared rhubarb to the boiling water and cover. Start timing immediately and cook over high heat for one minute (two minutes if you live 5,000 feet or higher above sea level). As soon as the blanching time is complete, use a slotted spoon to remove the rhubarb from the boiling water. Immediately plunge the rhubarb into the ice water. Chill for one minute (two minutes for high-altitude cooking) and drain.

Test Kitchen Tip: If you're planning to store frozen rhubarb for three months or longer, the blanching step may preserve the color of fresh rhubarb. If you'll be using the rhubarb sooner, you can skip this step.

Step 4: Flash freeze

Place cut (and blanched, if desired) rhubarb on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flash freeze until firm (about two to three hours).

Step 5: Label containers and freeze

Label freezer bags or containers with the contents and date and freeze them for up to one year. To use frozen rhubarb, thaw it in its container in the refrigerator and use it as you would fresh rhubarb in recipes.

When you're ready to use your fresh or thawed rhubarb, try it in a grilled strawberry crisp or turn the veggie into a refreshing summery drink with a rhubarb agua fresca. You can also preserve rhubarb in a delicious berry jam.

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