Properties and Benefits of Rhubarb: With its trademark fleshy, crisp, rose stalks and deep green curly leaves, rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is probably the most popular pie plant in the English-speaking world. Rhubarb is a modest source of important nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, manganese and potassium and particularly rich in vitamins C and K.
While the stalks are a good source of antioxidants, the roots of the plant boast laxative as well as blood glucose lowering properties. However, despite its medicinal properties, rhubarb poses some health risks as well due to the toxic compounds found in its leaves. Read more and find out what you need to know about your favorite pie plant.
Is rhubarb a vegetable or fruit? As far as appearance, taste and botanical classification are concerned, rhubarb is a vegetable. But its extensive use in dessert recipes such as pies, crumbles, strudel, jams and so on has led to its classification as a fruit. Because of its prolific spread in areas of favorable climate, rhubarb is very often seen as a weed.
What does rhubarb look like? Rhubarb has quite a distinct appearance: it has reddish or rose, celery-like stalks called petioles with large, deep green, curly leaves on top. Remember: rhubarb leaves are not edible! They contain a toxic compound called oxalic acid which may cause serious kidney problems (kidney failure), if ingested in large amounts. For example, 19.23 g of oxalic acid is a lethal dose for a 50 kg individual.
What does rhubarb taste like? Raw rhubarb is quite tart and acidic and tastes a lot like sour green apples. The green apple flavor comes from a compound called malic acid, also found in unripe fruits like apples or grapes. Despite being called a pie plant, the plant has an extremely low sugar content (1.1 g of sugar/100 g of rhubarb).
In order to make it more palatable, sugar is added during the cooking process. While some people prefer rhubarb in desserts, others do not fancy it at all. However, there is a brave minority who find raw rhubarb stalks and salt more appetizing than a dessert.
Rhubarb is quite the interesting vegetable: did you know that once you plant it, it can live for up to 20 years, provided it enjoys optimal growth conditions? As far as health benefits are concerned, here is what rhubarb can do for your health:
1) Promotes weight loss. Rhubarb has only 21 kcal/100 g of raw stalks and a very low sugar content of only 1.1 g of sugar/100 g of rhubarb. This makes it ideal for losing weight, provided you consume it raw, roasted or stewed, without adding any sugar. Its high water content (93.61 g) and extremely low fat content (0.20 g) also contribute immensely to keeping your weight under control.
2) Good for cardiovascular health. Rhubarb has no cholesterol, no caffeine and less than 0.20 g of fat/100 g of raw stalks, thus contributing to artery health. Moreover, it contains 1.8 g of dietary fiber, indigestible plant material which prevents fat from the foods we eat from being absorbed by our intestines. This indirectly helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and makes rhubarb a heart-friendly vegetable.
3) Supports blood coagulation processes, reduces inflammation and promotes bone health. All of these health benefits are a result of the plant’s good vitamin K content (24% of the RDA).
4) Good immunity and fewer colds. As you can see in the nutrition table above, rhubarb provides 13% of the RDA of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent. Having enough vitamin C in your diet is essential for good immunity, beautiful skin and an overall better health.
5) Antioxidant activity. The trademark rose color of rhubarb is indicative of potent antioxidants called flavonoids which help protect against free radical cell damage. Moreover, the vegetable contains small amounts of another potent antioxidant called manganese.
6) Wonderful natural laxative. Rhubarb roots and petioles (stalks) contain cassic acid (rhein) and emodin, two strong natural laxative compounds, highly efficient against constipation.
7) Lowers blood sugar levels. Preliminary studies suggest that rhubarb roots can help lower high blood sugar levels.
Overall, rhubarb is a moderately nutritious vegetable with several great health benefits. Personally, I am not a big fan of it, but I would really like to give it one last try. If you know of any good rhubarb recipes that will make me rethink this vegetable, I would really appreciate it if you could share them with me in the comments section below.