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Fruit or Vegetable? Sweet and Savory Uses for Rhubarb

Rhubarb, Photo via Simple Bites

April is the perfect time to take in the sights, smells, and tastes of spring at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I get a lot of inspiration by checking out what the chefs are buying, so I was intrigued when I noticed Jonathan Black, Chef de Cuisine at Quince, loading up his cart this week with delicate pea shoots —blossoms still attached — and crates of rhubarb. Black and Executive Chef and Owner Michael Tusk regularly scour the Saturday market for items to feature on the menus at Quince and Cotogna.

While rhubarb is botanically defined as a vegetable, in 1947 a New York court decided that it should be classified as a fruit for distribution and regulation purposes. Rhubarb is almost always associated with desserts (pie, of course) and paired with another spring treat — strawberries. However, rhubarb’s crimson color, crispness, and tart flavor lend itself to a variety of other uses including jams, salsas, and chutneys.

Savory uses are not uncommon in the Middle East, where rhubarb has been used for centuries in tagines and stews. The tart flavor of rhubarb pairs excellently with savory herbs like thyme and rosemary, and also works well with strong, assertive flavors like caramelized onions and bacon. At Cotogna, rhubarb will be pickled and served alongside beautiful spring artichokes.

When selecting rhubarb at the market, choose stalks that are firm and thick, with no sign of wrinkling. Rhubarb can be refrigerated for several days but can also be chopped and frozen for use later in the year. It will only be available in limited quantities at the market now through June, so stop by Tierra Vegetables and Happy Quail Farms this month to get your hands on this spring treat. For more ideas and recipes highlighting rhubarb, check out the CUESA recipe archive.

For more market updates and seasonal tips, follow Lulu Meyer @farmersmarketlu or check out @CUESA on Twitter