Outdoor varieties -Valentine, McDonald, and German Wine. "Forced" or winter varieties -Victoria and Sutton. (Roots to produce forced rhubarb are dug outdoors in the fall and stored in a darkened shed at about 10°C until buds appear to produce an early spring crop.)
Rhubarb is a source of calcium, Vitamin C, and potassium.
One cup (250 mL) raw, diced has 27 calories.
First known references to the plant are Chinese, dated about 2700 B.C. But it probably originated in Siberia. The word rhubarb comes from the Latin rhabarbum, "near the river [the Volga] of the Barbarians".
However, until 200 hundred years ago, its value was chiefly medicinal and not culinary - it was known to make excellent purgatives and laxatives.
Not until after 1778 did it become appreciated for its fruit-like quality at times of year when most fruits were unavailable.
Buying and storing
Look for crisp, firm stalks. Colour may vary from various shades of green to deep ruby red. Greenhouse rhubarb has very small bright yellow-green leaves, rosier-coloured stalks, and milder flavour than that grown naturally outdoors.
Wrap and refrigerate. Rhubarb can also be frozen if cleaned and cut into pieces or blanched and covered with a light syrup.
Preparing and using
Rhubarb cooked as a sauce is a favourite. You can also make it into a custard pie, baked crumble or crisp, use in sweet-and-sour chutneys, simmer it in a sugar and ginger syrup to make compotes - or make it into wine.
It's a good partner with other fruit, such as strawberries, in pies, tarts and preserves because it tends to take on the flavour of such fruits.
Caution: Avoid eating rhubarb leaves. They contain oxalic acid which irritates the inside of the mouth and, in some cases, can be fatal.