Rhubarb

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Rhubarb is a group of plants that belong to the genus Rheum in the family Polygonaceae.

They are herbaceous perennial plants growing from short, thick rhizomes. They have large leaves that are somewhat triangular-shaped with long fleshy petioles. They have small flowers grouped in large compound leafy greenish-white to rose-red inflorescences.

Although the leaves are toxic, various parts of the plants have medicinal uses. Fresh raw stalks are crisp (similar to celery) with a strong tart taste; most commonly the plant's stalks are cooked and used in pies and other foods for their tart flavour. A number of varieties have been domesticated for human consumption, most of which are recognised as Rheum x hybridum by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Rhubarb is usually considered to be a vegetable; however, in the United States a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. A side effect was a reduction in taxes paid.[1]

Contents

Cultivation

Rhubarb is now grown in many areas and thanks to greenhouse production is available throughout much of the year. Rhubarb grown in hothouses (heated greenhouses) is called hothouse rhubarb. This rhubarb is typically made available at consumer markets in early spring, before outdoor cultivated rhubarb is available. Hothouse rhubarb is usually a brighter red than cultivated rhubarb. Hothouse rhubarb is also more tender and tastes sweeter than cultivated rhubarb.[2] In temperate climates rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be ready for harvest, usually in mid to late spring (April/May in the Northern Hemisphere, October/November in the Southern Hemisphere), and the season for field-grown plants lasts until September. In the northwestern US states of Oregon and Washington, there are typically two harvests: one from late April to May and another from late June and into July. Rhubarb is ready to be consumed as soon as it is harvested, and freshly cut stalks will be firm and glossy.

In the United Kingdom the first rhubarb of the year is harvested by candlelight in dark sheds dotted around the noted "Rhubarb Triangle" of Wakefield, Leeds, and Morley,[3] a practice that produces a sweeter, more tender stalk.[4]

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