Cooking with Rhubarb

What is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows well in cooler climates. In the northeast, rhubarb thrives in the spring. Most farmstands in Long Island will offer rhubarb in early to late spring. Consumed raw, rhubarb has an intensely tart flavor that’s not generally enjoyed by many. But toss it with sugar and bake it into cake, pie, shortbread, or jam, and rhubarb’s bitterness begins to fade!

Rhubarb stalks are safe to eat, but the leaves contain a compound called oxalic acid, which is toxic to both humans and animals. The most common symptoms of oxalic acid poisoning are stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, difficulty breathing, and a burning or painful sensation in the throat or mouth.  However, you would have to eat several pounds of rhubarb leaves to reach a toxic level. Always remove the leaves completely before cooking with rhubarb.

Is Rhubarb a Fruit or Vegetable?

Botanically, fruits contain seeds and vegetables consist of leaves, stalks, and roots. Therefore, rhubarb would be a vegetable. However, in 1947, the U.S. Customs Court legally classified rhubarb as a fruit. Since it is most often used to make sweet desserts (like other fruits), they deemed that importers shouldn’t have to pay the higher vegetable tax on the stalks.

How to Use Rhubarb

While rhubarb most commonly used in combination with other fruits to make sweet treats, rhubarb also has several savory applications. It can be added to salsa, used to make chutney or enjoyed as a marinade for meat.

Rhubarb Crisp


Filling:  1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 3/4 cup rolled oats,  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon,  5 rhubarb stalks cut up into pieces
Crisp Topping:  1 cup flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup melted butter


  • Preheat Oven to 350-375F.
  • Mix the filling ingredients and rhubarb and place in a baking dish.
  • Mix the Crisp Topping ingredients and place over the rhubarb mix.
  • Place in Oven for 35-50 minutes or until rhubarb mix is bubbling.
  • Great served with vanilla ice cream!

Rhubarb, Strawberry & Blueberry Compote in our slow cooker

recommended by CSA Member Roberta


  • 2 to 3 stalks of rhubarb, cut into inch long cubes
  • 1 pint of strawberries
  • 1 pint of hulled strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla (or more, according to taste)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar


Mix together in a slow cooker, cook on low for 2 hours – and eat either warm of chilled. We had ours warm with a dollop of plain yogurt – delicious!

Rhubarb Salsa


  • 1 tablespoon orange zest from approximately 1 orange
  • 7 to 8 stalks rhubarb coarsely chopped (a generous 2 cups)
  • 2 to 3 inches fresh ginger peeled and finely grated
  • 1/2 small yellow onion finely diced
  • 1/2 small red onion finely diced
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers seeded and minced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper diced
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • 3 tablespoon lemon juice from approximately 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh whey OR sauerkraut brine (optional)


  1. Soften the rhubarb for 10 to 15 minutes by simmering it in a few tablespoons of water over medium heat.
  2. Remove the rhubarb when it begins to fall apart, and place it in a blender, food processor, or large bowl.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients and blend together until a chunky puree is formed. (If you’re working by hand, just toss everything together well.)
  4. Adjust seasonings.
  5. Optional – To ferment, stir the whey or sauerkraut brine into the salsa, then spoon into a quart-sized Mason jar.
  6. Let sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, then store in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.

While this salsa can be eaten immediately, it does taste significantly better if let sit for a few days, so let it sit if you have the time.