Rhubarb vs Red Chard

In the plant world, rhubarb and red chard are often mistaken for one another due to their visually similar crimson stalks, but they have distinctly different characteristics and culinary uses. As you begin to explore these two vibrant plants, it’s important to recognize the key differences to ensure they’re used appropriately in your cooking. Rhubarb, for instance, is botanically classified as a fruit and is renowned for its tart flavor, which makes it a popular component in desserts, often requiring sweetening.

On the other hand, red chard, a leafy vegetable from the beet family, offers an earthy taste and is packed with nutrients, suitable for a variety of savory dishes. While both share a color palette that ranges through shades of red and magenta, telling them apart is straightforward if you know what to look for. The texture of the leaves and the flavor profile of the stalks are your immediate clues, with Swiss chard having shinier, more ruffled leaves and a milder taste compared to rhubarb’s wide, triangular leaves and sharp tartness.

Rhubarb Overview

Rhubarb Plant vs. Swiss Red Chard Plant

In your exploration of garden plants, rhubarb stands out for its perennial growth and unique culinary applications, particularly in pies due to its tart flavor profile. Dive into the specifics of rhubarb’s taxonomy, how to cultivate it in your garden, and its identifiable characteristics.

Taxonomy and Species

Rheum, the genus to which rhubarb belongs, is part of the Polygonaceae family. The species commonly known as rhubarb in culinary contexts is Rheum rhabarbarum. It is cultivated primarily for its fleshy stalks which have a noteworthy tartness.

Growing Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a hardy perennial that can thrive in your garden. Here’s what you need to consider for growing rhubarb:

  • Climate: Prefers cool climates; growth can be suboptimal in warmer zones.
  • Soil: Well-drained, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter.
  • Planting: Start with rhubarb crowns or divisions; situate in an area with full sun to partial shade.
  • Care: Minimal once established; keep soil moist and free of weeds, and apply a balanced fertilizer annually.

By following these guidelines, you ensure strong rhubarb plants that can be harvested for years.

Characteristics of Rhubarb

When discussing rhubarb’s characteristics, focus on the stalks and leaves:

  • Stalks: These are the edible portion, exhibiting a striking reddish color. Crisp and tart, these stalks are often used in desserts like pies and compotes.
  • Leaves: Rhubarb leaves are inedible and can be toxic due to high levels of oxalic acid. They are large and have a triangular shape, often with a green hue that can have red patches.

Keep in mind that while their appearance may be similar to red chard, rhubarb stalks are distinct in their culinary use and flavor.

Red Chard Explained

Red chard, a nutrient-rich vegetable in the beet family, offers a colorful addition to your diet with its vibrant stalks and dark-green leaves. Understanding its classification, how it’s grown, and its unique traits can enhance your appreciation and use of this vegetable.

Classification and Types

Beta vulgaris, commonly referred to as chard or Swiss chard, encompasses several types including red chard, such as Ruby Red and Rhubarb Red, and multicored rainbow chard. Red chard is a leafy vegetable, but unlike other beet varieties, it’s grown for its leaves and stems rather than its roots.

Cultivation Practices

As a hardy plant, red chard is relatively easy to grow in your garden. It thrives in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It’s also resilient to varying soil conditions and can often handle a bit of frost. Consistent watering is key, especially when grown in hot climates to ensure tender leaves and stalks.

Physical Traits and Nutrition

Physical Traits:

  • Leaves: Deep green and slightly crumpled.
  • Stems: Colorful stalks ranging from pale pink to vivid red.

Nutritional Profile:

  • Minerals: A good source of calcium, magnesium, and iron.
  • Vitamins: Rich in vitamins A, C, and K.
  • Antioxidants: Contains potent antioxidants beneficial for your health.
  • Fiber: High in dietary fiber for digestive health.

Incorporating red chard into your diet provides a wealth of nutrients that support overall well-being while adding a splash of color to your dishes.

Culinary Uses

Rhubarb 101 - Everything You Need To Know About Rhubarb

When exploring the culinary uses of rhubarb and red chard, you’ll find that each has its distinctive traits and applications in cooking. Rhubarb is noted for its tartness and is often sweetened, while red chard brings a leafy, slightly bitter dimension to savory dishes.

Rhubarb in Cuisine

Rhubarb, although botanically a vegetable, finds its primary use in sweet dishes. Here’s how you can incorporate rhubarb into your cooking:

  • Desserts: Transform its raw tartness with sugar to create delightful pies and crumbles. A classic is the strawberry rhubarb pie, a blend of sweet and tangy flavors.
  • Compotes & Jams: Stew rhubarb with sugar to make a compote that pairs excellently with desserts or jams for spreading on breakfast breads.
  • Savory Enhancements: Despite its sweet leanings, rhubarb can also add a unique tartness to chutneys and sauces, complementing meats and savory dishes.

Red Chard in Cooking

Red chard, with its earthy flavors, is a versatile vegetable for your savory creations:

  • Salads & Soups: Incorporate red chard into fresh salads or add it to soups for a nutritious boost.
  • Side Dishes: Sauté or steam the leaves and stems to prepare a healthful side dish that complements a variety of meals.
  • Integration in Main Courses: Its robust profile allows it to stand up well to strong flavors and seasonings, making it ideal for inclusion in a multitude of savory main dishes.

Nutritional Comparison

In comparing rhubarb and red chard, you’ll find that each has its distinct nutritional profile and benefits, emphasizing vitamins, minerals, and fiber content that are essential for your health.

Health Benefits

Rhubarb is low in calories and provides a modest amount of dietary fiber, contributing to improved digestion. It’s also a source of phytonutrient antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation. Red chard stands out for its higher levels of vitamins and minerals, including significant amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Iron, and Magnesium. This diverse nutrient content supports your body’s anti-inflammatory processes and can be beneficial for maintaining good health.

  • Rhubarb:
    • Fiber: Helps with digestion
    • Antioxidants: Support anti-inflammatory responses
  • Red Chard:
    • Vitamin K: Essential for blood clotting
    • Vitamin A: Important for vision and immune function
    • Iron: Crucial for oxygen transport in the blood
    • Magnesium: Supports muscle and nerve function

Dietary Importance

You’ll find that chard is a more nutrient-dense option, which can be particularly important if you’re aiming to increase your intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Both rhubarb and chard contain potassium, beneficial for heart health. However, chard has a higher potassium content along with a richer complement of anti-inflammatory enzymes.

When considering their place in your diet, understand that chard’s lower caloric content accompanied by a higher water content makes it a hydrating and low-energy-dense food, possibly supporting weight management goals without sacrificing nutrient intake.

  • Rhubarb:
    • Potassium: Supports heart health
    • Calories: Low energy contribution
  • Red Chard:
    • Potassium: Higher than rhubarb for heart health
    • Water: Contributes to hydration
    • Calories: Low, supports weight management
    • Fiber: High, enhances satiety and digestion

Both rhubarb and red chard can be valuable additions to your diet. The choice between them may come down to specific nutritional needs or personal preference.

Potential Health Concerns

When you’re incorporating vegetables like rhubarb and red chard into your diet, it’s critical to be aware of possible health concerns associated with them. Each has distinct characteristics that can impact your well-being if not handled or consumed appropriately.

Rhubarb Toxicity

Rhubarb stalks are safe to eat, but the leaves contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous. Consumption of the leaves can lead to severe symptoms and may be fatal in extreme cases. Oxalic acid can bind with calcium in the body, which not only diminishes its nutritional value but can also contribute to the formation of kidney stones. If you experience symptoms of rhubarb leaf poisoning, which might include difficulty breathing, burning in your mouth, or stomach pain, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Toxicity: Primarily from leaves, not stalks
  • Symptoms: Stomach pain, difficulty breathing
  • Compound of concern: Oxalic acid

Considerations with Red Chard

Red chard, on the other hand, is high in nutrients like calcium, potassium, and vitamins; however, it also contains oxalic acid, especially in the leaves. While it’s not in a concentration high enough to be considered toxic, it can be a concern for individuals with a predisposition to kidney stones. To reduce the oxalic acid content, you can cook red chard, which lowers its level and its potential risk.

  • Oxalic acid: Lesser concern than rhubarb, but noteworthy for those susceptible to kidney stones
  • Cooking: Reduces oxalic acid levels

Remember to enjoy these vegetables for their taste and health benefits, but also be mindful of their potential health concerns.

Harvest and Post-Harvest

When to Harvest Rhubarb & How Much of my Rhubarb should I Pick?

Proper techniques for harvesting rhubarb and red chard are crucial for maximizing their freshness and shelf life. Precise storage methods also play an essential role in preserving their quality after harvest.

Harvesting Techniques


  • Timing: Begin harvesting rhubarb in early spring, once the stalks reach a usable size, typically around 10–15 inches long.
  • Method: Grasp the base of the stalk, pull it sideways, and gently twist to break it off—avoid cutting as this can lead to rot.
  • Frequency: Harvest in moderation to ensure the plant remains productive; leave at least two-thirds of the plant intact to allow for continuous growth.

Red Chard (also known as silverbeet or bright lights):

  • Timing: You can start harvesting red chard leaves once they are about 8–12 inches tall.
  • Method: Pick the outer leaves first, cutting them near the base of the leafstalk to encourage new growth from the center.
  • Size Consideration: For tender leaves, opt for smaller sizes, similar to kale, whereas larger leaves can be harvested for a more robust flavor.

Storage and Preservation


  • Short-term: Store fresh rhubarb stalks in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp cloth or in a plastic bag for up to two weeks.
  • Long-term: For extended storage, rhubarb can be frozen. Cut the stalks into pieces and blanch them before freezing, or simply freeze them raw.

Red Chard:

  • Short-term: Keep unwashed red chard in the refrigerator in a plastic bag to maintain moisture. It should last about a week.
  • Long-term Option: Blanch the leaves and stalks for two minutes, then transfer them into ice water before draining and freezing for long-term use.

By following these specified techniques, you can effectively harvest and preserve rhubarb and red chard from your home garden to ensure they retain their quality and nutritional value.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find concise answers to some commonly asked questions about the distinctions between rhubarb and red chard, including taste differences, substitution in recipes, nutritional value, botanical classification, raw consumption safety, and a comparison between red and green chard.

What are the taste differences between rhubarb and red chard?

Rhubarb is known for its tart and tangy flavor, which often necessitates sweetening when used in dishes. Red chard has an earthy taste with a slightly bitter undertone, milder than that of rhubarb.

Can Swiss chard be used as a substitute for rhubarb in recipes?

While both plants feature red stalks, Swiss chard is not a suitable substitute for rhubarb in recipes due to its milder flavor and different texture. Rhubarb’s tartness is unique and integral to dishes that typically call for it.

What distinguishes the nutritional profiles of rhubarb versus red chard?

Rhubarb is lower in calories and can be a source of vitamin K and fiber. Red chard is nutrient-dense, offering vitamins A, C, and K, and essential minerals like iron and magnesium.

Are rhubarb and Swiss chard related botanically?

No, rhubarb and Swiss chard are not closely related. Rhubarb belongs to the genus Rheum, while Swiss chard is a type of beet belonging to the genus Beta.

Is it safe to consume rhubarb chard raw?

It’s important to distinguish between rhubarb and red chard. Rhubarb leaves are toxic and should not be eaten. The stalks can be eaten raw but are very tart. Red chard is completely edible and can be consumed raw in salads.

How does red chard compare to green chard in terms of flavor and culinary uses?

The flavor of red chard is very similar to green chard, both having earthy, mild bitter undertones. Red chard can be more visually appealing in dishes. Both can be used interchangeably in recipes.

Follow Us
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.
Cassie Marshall
Follow Us