Rhubarb, which looks like a
pink celery stalk, is botanically a vegetable, but it is used
as a fruit, largely in pies and sauces. The ancient Chinese cultivated
the plant for its roots, which reputedly have medicinal properties.
The roots and leaves aren't eaten; indeed, the leaves are highly
poisonous. At one time, the toxicity was attributed to their exceedingly
high levels of oxalic acid, a substance that can interfere with
iron and calcium absorption. However, the exact source of the
leaf toxin has yet to be determined, since rhubarb stalks also
contain significant amounts of oxalic acid (as do a few other
foods, such as spinach). Rhubarb stalks are extremely tart and
they require sweetening to make them appetising. This can increase
their calorie content considerably.
Choose well coloured, good sized, straight, firm crisp stalks.
Avoid stalks that are limp. If the leaves are attached, they should
look fresh and crisp; small leaves usually indicate younger, more
If you buy rhubarb stalks with the leaves still attached, cut
off the leaves as soon as you get home. Never eat the leaves,
raw or cooked: They are poisonous. Place the stalks in plastic
bags and store them in the refrigerator crisper, where they will
keep for about a week.