Rhubarb – Leaf to root

Rhubarb – Leaf to root

A sweet and sour journey from the peel to the root

Rhubarb is harvested until the end of June. The crunchy stalks, which are almost always peeled, are commonly used to make pies and compotes. For most people, this is where their knowledge of rhubarb ends. And it's a real shame, because the peel can also be used to wonderful effect.

We all know rhubarb in its sweet form, and most of us would not think to use the leftover peel. Mischa Käser, chef at Restaurant Italia in Zurich, has other ideas. As I stood chatting with him in the kitchen a while ago, he showed me his dried rhubarb peel. "I didn't want to throw it away, so I played around with it", he says.

After stripping off the peel, he dusts it with icing sugar, mixes it together and leaves it to dry overnight in the oven at 50°C. Once dried, you can simply nibble away at the peel. Mischa Käser dresses his dishes with this edible garnish. He has already served it alongside confit goat heart with a rhubarb jelly and pearl barley salad, for instance. "Of course it is also great for decorating desserts", he says. The peel remains red once dried, looks fantastic and is wonderfully sweet and tart.

Peel as a flavour enhancer

If you don't have time for the drying process, I recommend using the peel for the stock at least. Just like asparagus, where the peel also gives the stock an intense flavour, rhubarb peel can be decocted with caramelized sugar and wine, for example – a process familiar to Sebastian Rösch at Restaurant Mesa. While dining at his restaurant recently, I enjoyed a rhubarb and chocolate dessert with rolls of thinly shaved rhubarb that the chef had preserved for a week in one such stock. It was wonderfully intense!

But not all parts of the rhubarb are edible. Take care with the rhubarb leaves

If you're keen to work more with rhubarb, you can use both the peel and stalks for cooking, but watch out for the leaves! They are very high in oxalic acid (more so than the stalks), and during my in-depth "Leaf to root" research I read that the leaves are believed to contain another as yet unidentified substance that could be dangerous to humans.


Rhubarb root

Sebastian Rösch is currently also working with rhubarb root. It was the World's Best Chef 2017, Ana Roš, who first enlightened me on the use of rhubarb root. The Slovenian preserves the roots in vinegar to enhance their flavour – only when the rhubarb plants are having to be replaced anyway, of course. Chef Sebastian Rösch preserved his cleaned stems in rapeseed oil – just a few days later and the oil has a surprisingly fruity flavour. He plans to whip it up with white chocolate and turn it into aerated chocolate. This is achieved using a vacuum machine. "It would also be great to be able to pulverize rhubarb peel for home use and sprinkle it on top of homemade white chocolate", he believes.

A little-known gem

The unopened rhubarb flowers make a fabulous cooking ingredient. These spherical, often fist-sized buds are harvested while they are still partially covered with a membrane. They used to be cooked quite simply with béchamel sauce, which balanced the acidity from the rhubarb. However, I've also tried deep-frying them in batter, which worked wonderfully as the acidity provides a wonderful contrast to the savoury batter.

Perhaps you have your own garden – or neighbours who don't know what little gems they have growing in their patch. Rhubarb flowers are often cut off and thrown away as very few people appreciate their culinary value.

The acidity provides a wonderful contrast to the savoury batter.

Esther Kern

Suitable recipes

Esther – Leaf to Root
Esther – Leaf to Root
The food journalist loves to experiment with all parts of the vegetable.

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