Ever wonder why rhubarb is red? And why it varies in color from pink to red to green? You might be surprised to learn that the very same elements that give rhubarb its varied hues are also giving you some major added health benefits. The color variations have everything to do with individual varieties and nothing to do with ripeness. The hothouse rhubarbs tend to be pinker, while the field-grown tends to range from green to a deep red.
The pinky-red color comes from a mix of certain healthful antioxidants and carotenoid pigments—two in particular may help reduce cataracts and macular degeneration in your eyes. To best absorb these carotenoids, you actually need dietary fat. So between the antioxidant and carotenoid benefits in rhubarb, combined with the dietary fat in cream, whipping up my Rhubarb Fool—an old Brit combo of sweetened rhubarb purée swirled with whipped cream—on Epicurious might actually be a quick-fix dessert that’s downright healthy. Oh, and did I add it’s super-simple to make and insanely delicious? You’ve got no good reason not to make it!
When shopping for rhubarb, look for firm, strong stalks free of blemishes. The leaves should not be attached, but if they are, discard them immediately. Consider them poisonous. Apparently, the late James Beard found that hard to believe. Beard’s longtime house steward and friend Clay Triplette told me that many years ago he was cutting up rhubarb for a dessert when Mr. Beard asked if he could taste a leaf. Triplette warned him that it was dangerous, but Mr. Beard was persistent and took a tiny bite. “Well”, continued Triplette, “Mr. Beard got sick to his stomach that night and had a very bad case of diarrhea, but he was okay the next day.” So head out to your local market in search of the ruby stalks, but make sure you leave the leaves alone!