The Sweetest Way to Eat Rhubarb Doesn't Involve a Ton of Sugar

April 11, 2018

Ah, spring. It means milder weather, budding daffodils, and farmers market hauls of asparagus, ramps, and our favorite sassy vegetable-that’s-legally-a-fruit, rhubarb. In the small sliver of time between April and June, rhubarb is a regular guest at the table—you see it in buckles, pies, upside-down cakes, compotes, sorbets, and even cocktails. There are some savory applications, too, in which rhubarb lends tart, bright notes to richer, meaty dishes, and gives springy tarts and salads some added flair.

Rhubarb among the creamy, yogurt-y clouds. Photo by Julia Gartland

But sweet or savory, rhubarb can often play second fiddle to bolder seasonal cousins like strawberries, or, worse yet, can get buried under a shedload of sugar to tame its much maligned sourness. This is a real shame, since rhubarb’s flavor is so clean and crisp on its own, its pleasant tang a perfect counterpoint to all manner of creamy and earthy backdrops. Stripped down, with its refreshing powers harnessed correctly, rhubarb is a true celebration of spring, and should be treated as simply as the most delicate pea tendril.

Jenny Tschiesche, a nutrition expert, educator, and founder of The Lunchbox Doctor, has the same, minimalist philosophy on preparing rhubarb as she does for cooking everything else: Simple is best. Her book, Sheet Pan Cooking, which came out last month, is geared towards creating no-fuss, nourishing meals, with maximal flavor and minimal ingredients and prep. And as the book’s title suggests, everything can be made on a sheet pan.

Springtime in a sheet pan! Photo by Julia Gartland

In Jenny’s mind, rhubarb needs little more than two additional ingredients and 30 minutes in the oven to come to life. It also can rely on some of nature’s best sweeteners—honey and orange juice—to bring it to its sweetest, most flavorful heights. After just a short time roasting in a 350 ̊F oven, the Orange-Baked Rhubarb come out with their inviting fuchsia hue still vibrant, flecked with bits of orange zest, and give off a sweet, honey-orange aroma. While their shape stays intact after roasting, their insides take on a luscious, pudding-like texture that can stand up to crunchy accents (like granola or crumbled gingersnaps) and creamy accompaniments (like plain Greek yogurt, coconut yogurt, or whipped cream) alike.

And as for rhubarb’s hallmark sharpness? Shop editor (and rhubarb enthusiast) Gerry Coletta remarked on the “good balance between sweet and tart” in this dish, noting that the strongest flavor was the rhubarb itself. Mission accomplished.

What's your favorite way to savor rhubarb's clean, tart flavor? Share with us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Susan Epstein
    Susan Epstein
  • delbor
  • Brinda Ayer
    Brinda Ayer
Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.


Susan E. May 22, 2022
Shame on you for perpetuating the myth that honey (or agave, or any other “natural” sweetener) is somehow a healthier choice. Yes, honey is less processed and has some nutrients. But it is not lower in calories or carbohydrates, and for anyone watching either of those, there is no difference. The body processes it the same way. Even the natural sugar in fruit is processed the same way—BUT the significant nutritional value and fiber modulate the process. Use the sweetener you like, hopefully in moderation. But please don’t lead people to believe that there is anything virtuous or healthy about substituting honey for sugar.
delbor April 11, 2018
'rhubarb’s flavor is so clean and crisp on its own, its pleasant tang a perfect counterpoint to all manner of creamy and earthy backdrops. "

Surely you jest. Rhubarb, which I have grown and eaten for decades, is sour, sour, sour. Like lemon or white vinegar. Etch your teeth sour.
Brinda A. April 12, 2018
Hi there! You're right—rhubarb is definitely quite tart. By "on its own," I actually mean that rhubarb can be enjoyed without being mixed together with strawberries or other fruit, or without being added to baked goods with a lot of extra sugar, as is often the case. Jenny's recipe here tempers rhubarb's sharpness with a couple different flavoring agents/sweeteners, but otherwise leaves the rhubarb to shine. If you're growing rhubarb again this year and get to try out the recipe, I'd love to hear what you think!