How to Store Rhubarb

Rhubarb, with its tart taste and bright color, is a perennial favorite for many, known especially for its role in delightful desserts like pies and crumbles.

Understanding how to store rhubarb correctly extends its shelf life, ensuring that you can enjoy its unique flavor when it’s at its best.

Whether it’s freshly harvested from your garden or purchased from the store, implementing proper storage techniques is key to maintaining the vegetable’s quality and freshness.

Fresh rhubarb stored in a refrigerator drawer, wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a plastic bag to maintain freshness

To store rhubarb properly, begin by selecting stiff, unblemished stalks; the presence of soft spots or discoloration can indicate the onset of spoilage.

Clean stalks should be thoroughly dried as excess moisture can hasten deterioration.

Rhubarb can generally be stored in the refrigerator, where it remains fresh for up to two weeks when kept in a crisper drawer.

For longer preservation, rhubarb can be frozen, a method that involves cutting the stalks into sizes suitable for your future recipes and storing them in freezer-safe bags.

Rhubarb Basics

A bunch of fresh rhubarb is neatly arranged in a cool, dark place, with the stems wrapped in a damp paper towel to keep them crisp

Before diving into specific methods of storing rhubarb, it’s essential to understand the basic aspects of this vegetable, from identification to the optimal harvest time and the various types you might encounter.

Identifying Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable known for its long, thick stalks, which are the edible parts of the plant.

The leaves of rhubarb are large and triangular with a toxic quality, so you must never consume them.

The stalks range in color from green to deep red and have a crisp texture when fresh.

The Best Time to Harvest Rhubarb

You can harvest rhubarb during spring when the stalks are at their most tender.

This period usually occurs from April through June, which is often referred to as “rhubarb season.”

It’s best to harvest when stalks are about 12 to 18 inches long. After summer, rhubarb stalks become woody and lose their tenderness.

Rhubarb Varieties and Characteristics

Various rhubarb varieties exist, each with unique characteristics. Some common types include:

  • Victoria: Wide greenish-red stalks with a tender texture.
  • Canada Red: Deep red stalks, known for their sweetness.
  • Riverside Giant: Long, thick stalks, predominantly green.

Rhubarb’s tart flavor is a unique characteristic, which complements sweet desserts and can be mellowed with sugar or other sweeteners.

Preparation Before Storing

Proper preparation of rhubarb before storage is crucial to maintain its freshness and quality. This process involves thorough cleaning, trimming, and, if you choose, blanching which can extend shelf life.

Cleaning and Trimming

First, rinse your rhubarb stalks under cold water to remove any dirt or debris.

It’s necessary to inspect each stalk for any signs of decay or damage. Pay attention to:

  • Discoloration: Stalks should exhibit vibrant red or green hues.
  • Firmness: Stalks should be firm to the touch.
  • Texture: Look for soft spots or black areas that indicate rotting.

After washing, pat the rhubarb dry with a clean cloth.

Proceed to trim the ends and any damaged parts of the stalks. Once trimmed, you can cut the rhubarb into pieces, according to your future recipe requirements.

Blanching Techniques

Blanching is an optional step that can help preserve the color and texture of rhubarb during freezing.

To blanch rhubarb:

  1. Boil a pot of water and prepare an ice water bath.
  2. Submerge the rhubarb pieces in the boiling water for around 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  3. Immediately transfer the rhubarb to the ice water to halt the cooking process.

This pre-freezing technique ensures that your rhubarb will not become mushy and retains its vibrant color.

After blanching, it’s essential to dry the rhubarb thoroughly to prevent ice crystallization during storage.

Storing Rhubarb at Home

To keep rhubarb fresh, precise methods in refrigeration and freezing are critical. Follow these guidelines to maintain the quality and longevity of your rhubarb at home.

Refrigeration Guidelines

Step 1: Prepare Rhubarb Stalks

After acquiring rhubarb, rinse the stalks under cold water to remove any dirt. Pat them dry with a kitchen towel or let them air-dry completely.

Step 2: Wrap in Damp Towel

Moisten a kitchen towel slightly and wrap it around the rhubarb stalks. This maintains humidity which is vital to keep rhubarb fresh.

Step 3: Store in the Fridge

Place the wrapped rhubarb in a plastic bag but do not seal it fully, as this allows for airflow.

Store it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator to maintain freshness for up to a week.

Freezing Rhubarb for Long-Term Storage

Preparation for Freezing

  • Cut cleaned rhubarb into half-inch pieces.
  • Optional: Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute and then cool in ice water to preserve color and flavor.

Flash Freezing

Spread the rhubarb pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze for about 2 hours or until solid.

Final Storage

Transfer the frozen rhubarb into freezer bags, removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.

Clearly label the bag with the date and return it to the freezer.

Properly frozen rhubarb can be stored for up to one year, retaining its quality and flavor.

Utilizing Stored Rhubarb

Stored rhubarb is versatile and can be used directly in cooking and baking or after thawing if frozen. For best flavor and texture in your dishes, follow these guidelines.

From Refrigerator to Cooking

Your refrigerated rhubarb is ready to go from storage to stovetop or oven.

Keep the rhubarb crisp and retain its tartness by using it as soon as possible after taking it out of the fridge.

It works exceptionally well in sauces and jams or as a dessert addition for that distinct tang.

Here’s how to prepare it:

  1. Rinse the stalks under cold water and dry them thoroughly.
  2. Cut the rhubarb into half-inch pieces for even cooking.
  3. Cook it over medium heat if making a sauce, ensuring that it breaks down but doesn’t turn mushy.

For baking:

  • Preheat your oven following your pie, crumble, or cake recipe instructions.
  • Mix rhubarb pieces with sweeteners before putting them into the dough or batter, as its natural tartness complements sweet flavors well.

Thawing and Using Frozen Rhubarb

Before you can use your frozen rhubarb in a recipe, it must be properly thawed to maintain its texture. Here are the steps:

  • Transfer the frozen rhubarb into the refrigerator a night before you plan to use it, allowing it to thaw slowly.
  • For immediate use, place the rhubarb in a sealed plastic bag and submerge it in cold water until it’s thawed.

When cooking thawed rhubarb:

  • Drain any excess liquid caused by the thawing process and pat the pieces dry.
  • Keep in mind that thawed rhubarb might be softer; adjust your cooking time accordingly.

Rhubarb Preservation Techniques

When preserving rhubarb, maintaining its acidic and flavorful profile is key. You’ll want to use techniques that keep these characteristics intact for enjoyment throughout the year.

Canning and Jarring

Canning rhubarb allows you to enjoy the tart flavor throughout the year.

It involves preparing your rhubarb by washing and chopping it into manageable sizes.

You must then sterilize your jars and prepare a hot water bath.

Here’s a simple process to ensure your canned rhubarb stays fresh and flavorful:

  1. Fill jars with prepared rhubarb.
  2. Cover rhubarb with boiling syrup made from sugar and water, leaving headspace at the top.
  3. Use a clean cloth to wipe the rims, then place the sterilized seal and ring on the jar.
  4. Process the jars in the hot water bath for the recommended time.

Always ensure your lids seal properly to prevent spoilage.

Making Rhubarb Chutney

Rhubarb chutney combines the vegetable’s natural tartness with other ingredients to create a flavorful condiment. For a standard rhubarb chutney, you’ll typically include the following:

  • Fresh rhubarb, chopped
  • Sugar to sweeten
  • Vinegar to preserve and add acidity
  • A blend of spices for added complexity, such as ginger, cinnamon, or allspice.

Cooking all the ingredients slowly melds the flavors and reduces the mixture to a thick, jam-like consistency. Once it reaches the desired thickness:

  1. Pour the hot chutney into sterilized jars.
  2. Leave an appropriate headspace.
  3. Wipe the jar rims and seal with lids and rings.
  4. Process in a hot water bath if you want to store the chutney for an extended period.

Properly sealed jars of rhubarb chutney can be stored and enjoyed as a savory complement to many dishes.

Rhubarb Tips and Best Practices

A bundle of fresh rhubarb stalks neatly arranged in a basket, with a label indicating "Rhubarb Tips and Best Practices" for storage

Ensuring your rhubarb retains its ruby hue and tart flavor requires proper storage methods. By avoiding common mistakes and maximizing freshness, you can enjoy this versatile vegetable to its full potential.

Avoiding Common Storage Mistakes

Never Store Rhubarb in Ethylene-Producing Environments: Ethylene, a natural ripening hormone, can lead to premature wilting. Keep rhubarb away from produce like apples and bananas that exude excess ethylene. Store it in a part of your fridge isolated from these items.

Do Not Wrap Rhubarb Tightly in Foil: Wrapping rhubarb in foil might seem like a good idea to prevent it from drying out, but this practice traps ethylene gas, which accelerates the breakdown of fibers by activating enzymes. This can lead to soggy or mushy stalks.

Maximizing Flavor and Freshness

To Retain Peak Flavor, Store Rhubarb Properly: Wrap rhubarb stalks loosely in damp paper towels to retain moisture but allow for airflow. Then, place the wrapped rhubarb in an open or perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. This should keep the rhubarb fresh for up to two weeks.

For Long-Term Storage, Use the Freezer: Rhubarb freezes well. Wash the stalks and cut them into the size you’d use for cooking, perhaps as you might celery for a sauce or as fiber-rich additions to other dishes. Blot excess moisture with a paper towel. Pack the pieces in a freezer-safe bag, removing as much air as possible, and seal it. Don’t forget to crimp the bag to prevent freezer burn. When thawed, the rhubarb won’t be quite as crisp as fresh, but it will still be perfect for cooking.

Complementary Foods and Recipes

Rhubarb’s tartness makes it a distinctive addition to both sweet and savory dishes, offering a balance to recipes that benefit from its unique flavor profile.

Pairing Rhubarb with Other Foods

  • Sweet Partners: Rhubarb pairs well with sweet fruits like strawberries and apples. These combinations are especially popular in desserts such as pies, tarts, and crumbles.
  • Savory Complements: For a savory twist, combine rhubarb with ginger or onions to create a tangy sauce that complements meats and tofu.

Rhubarb Recipe Ideas


  • Pies and Crumbles: Bake chopped rhubarb with a touch of sugar to make the filling for desserts. Use a baking sheet to evenly roast rhubarb before incorporating it into your dough.
  • Simple Syrup: Make a simple syrup with equal parts water and sugar, add sliced rhubarb, and simmer. Once thawed, it can be used in cocktails or beverages.

Sauces and Jams:

  • Savory Sauces: Balance savory dishes by blending cooked rhubarb with ingredients like soy sauce or balsamic vinegar.
  • Jams: For jams, cook down rhubarb with sugar until it reaches a thick consistency. Store in the freezer for longer shelf life.

Health and Nutrition

Fresh rhubarb stored in a refrigerator crisper drawer, wrapped in a damp paper towel to maintain moisture and freshness

When you include rhubarb in your diet, you’re incorporating a vegetable known for its nutritional benefits. Let’s explore what rhubarb offers in terms of health.

Nutritional Benefits of Rhubarb

Rhubarb stands out among fruits and vegetables because of its unique nutritional profile. Unlike some vegetables such as celery and kale that are typically associated with green nutritional powerhouses, or fruits like tomatoes that are known for their lycopene content, rhubarb offers a different range of vitamins and minerals.

  • Fiber: Rhubarb is a good source of dietary fiber which is essential for your digestive health.
  • Vitamin K: Essential for blood clotting and bone health, rhubarb contains a notable amount of Vitamin K, similar to leafy greens like kale and broccoli.
  • Calcium: While not as high as dairy products, rhubarb contains calcium which is vital for healthy bones and teeth.
  • Vitamin C: This immune-boosting vitamin is also present in rhubarb, comparable to what you might find in citrus fruits or tomatoes.

Keep in mind that while rhubarb leaves are toxic and should never be eaten, the stalks of rhubarb are where you’ll find these nutritional benefits. Eat rhubarb in its peak season, which is typically in winter and spring, to ensure the best flavor and nutritional value.

Frequently Asked Questions

Rhubarb stalks neatly arranged in a cool, dark pantry with proper ventilation. Labelled containers for freezing or canning nearby

This section answers common queries on storing rhubarb, ensuring its longevity and preserving its quality for various uses.

What is the best method to store rhubarb for an extended period?

For long-term storage, freezing rhubarb is the most effective method. Cut the stalks into bite-sized pieces, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet to freeze initially, then transfer to a freezer-safe bag, removing as much air as possible before sealing.

Is it possible to store rhubarb overnight without compromising its quality?

Yes, you can store rhubarb overnight without affecting the quality. Wrap the rhubarb in a damp paper towel and place it inside a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.

What are the steps for properly freezing rhubarb to maintain its freshness?

To freeze rhubarb, wash the stalks thoroughly, chop them into the desired size, spread them on a baking tray to freeze until solid to prevent clumping, and then place them in airtight freezer bags, extracting as much air as possible before sealing.

Can rhubarb be kept in the refrigerator, and if so, for how long?

Rhubarb can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Ensure that it’s wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed inside a perforated plastic bag in the crisper section to maintain optimum freshness.

Is it safe to freeze rhubarb without blanching, and does it affect the quality?

Freezing rhubarb without blanching is safe and does not significantly affect its quality. While blanching can help retain color and texture, unblanched rhubarb still freezes well for most cooking purposes.

After harvesting, what is the recommended way to store rhubarb for future use?

After harvesting rhubarb, promptly store it by cleaning the stalks. Then, cut them into sizes you’ll use.

After that, you can either refrigerate them wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in plastic bags for short-term use. Or, freeze as instructed earlier for future use.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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