Rhubarb, but without all the sugar



Tarts, pies, crumbles and fools - all classic British desserts that are often made with rhubarb and always with a heavy helping of sugar. This tradition is a carry-on from the 19th century when sugar became more affordable and widely consumed. Prior to this, rhubarb by itself was deemed far too tart to be palatable and was only ever used medicinally to treat digestive issues. Once married with sugar, the sweetened rhubarb became a British dessert staple that has lasted generations and will continue to do so.


But do we always have to add so much sugar to rhubarb? Do we have to always cook it to a stringy mush? Raw rhubarb has a really interesting and unique flavour when it isn’t cooked and covered up with sugar. While the leaves are toxic to eat raw, rhubarb stalks are not. Raw, rhubarb has the crunchy and fibrous texture of celery. The flavour is earthy, fruity, and as you would expect, very tart, with a hint of sweetness. Similar in many ways to lemon. So why not use it like we would lemon?


Lemon, limes, vinegar or other acidic ingredients work best to bring balance to the flavours of a dish, providing freshness, working especially well with sweet and salty flavours. Think about how we usually would use lemon. Lemon and fish. Lemon and chicken. Lemon and olive oil salad dressing. A squeeze of lemon over steamed vegetables.


Try these recipes that use rhubarb, but without all the sugar;


Rhubarb Vinaigrette


This tart and bright vinaigrette is a perfect accompaniment to go with strong flavoured fish like mackerel or sardines. It would even work with steak or fried chicken. Or simply use it to dress a salad. 


1 stalk of rhubarb, finely minced

1 clove garlic, finely minced

3 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Mix ingredients in a bowl to combine and then add salt and pepper to taste. Instead of mincing the rhubarb, chilli and garlic, you can save time by blitzing them all in a food processor until roughly minced. Don’t overdo it though, you don’t want a purée. 



Pickled Rhubarb


A unique and aromatic pickle, great for sandwiches or salads, or just eaten by themselves straight out of the jar. This recipe includes whole peppercorns in the pickling brine, the aromatics of the pepper really pair well with rhubarb.


Slice your rhubarb to any thickness you want. Thinner slices will lose their crunch but bigger pieces are harder to pack into a jar. Roughly 2 - 3 cm chunks works best. Before adding the rhubarb to the jar,  add a tablespoon of dry peppercorns. Feel free to experiment with other dry spices as well.


This recipe uses a standard 4:2:1 ratio for making a pickling brine. In other words, 4 parts vinegar to 2 parts water and 1 part sugar. Rather than measuring spoons or cups, use scales and measure your ingredients. Everyone has different sized jars that they use for pickles so I won’t provide measurements to follow exactly to the gram. You just want to make enough brine to fill your pickling jar. Save any excess brine in a jar for your next batch of pickles.


To make: bring the ingredients to a boil, then turn off the heat and let sit until cooled. Pack your rhubarb into a sterilised jar (heat a clean jar in the oven to 100c for 10 minutes) then simply pour in the brine and peppercorns. Store the jar in the fridge. 

The pickles will be ready in two weeks and should last a few months in the fridge. If you want to store them out of the fridge for long term storage, you will need to do additional heat processing.