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rah-rah for rhubarb

Pity the poor, misunderstood rhubarb. For years, people have argued over whether this hearty stalk is a fruit or a vegetable. Technically speaking, rhubarb is a vegetable, but after the United States Customs Court ruled that it should be considered a fruit, most people followed suit. Because it is used so often in baked goods, it’s been dubbed “the pie plant.”

Health Benefits. Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin C, fiber and calcium.

Selecting the Best Fruit. Look for thick, firm stalks that show no wrinkling or other signs of drying. If the plant has leaves on it, they should appear unwilted and fresh. Because they contain a high amount of a toxin called oxalate, the plant’s leaves should never be eaten, whether cooked or raw. This toxin has reportedly caused serious poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked rhubarb leaves were ingested.

Storing. Refrigerate fresh rhubarb in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. You can also chop up the stalks and place them in a zip-top plastic bag in the freezer for up to 8 months.

Preparing. Trim and discard all leaves, and wash stalks thoroughly prior to cooking rhubarb. Because it is bracingly tart, rhubarb must be sweetened with honey, sugar or fruit juice to balance the acidity.

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