By: Intro by Judy Davie, content Lisa Costa Bir
It's the first day of winter and although the change in season puts apples and pears squarely at the forefront of the fruit bowl, there are other seasonal treats we can enjoy. Top of my list is Queensland strawberries and rhubarb, which complement each other beautifully.
Rhubarb is an underappreciated vegetable, although you could be forgiven for thinking it's a fruit. It belongs to the buckwheat family, has long, slim vibrant pink stalks with rounded ridges like celery.
Rhubarb's dark, green leafy tops are like beetroot leaves although unlike beetroot leaves you can't eat rhubarb leaves because they contain high concentrations of oxalic acid, known to be toxic. Oxalic acid is also found in spinach and silverbeet but in lesser amounts.
So why choose rhubarb?
Rhubarb is packed full of nutrients including calcium, potassium and the immune boosters vitamin A and C (making it perfect to protect against the sniffles and sneezes associated with this winter weather!). A recent study also suggested rhubarb to be a potent source of numerous antioxidants, not a surprise when one considers its bright colour. The characteristic crimson colour of rhubarb stalks is due to constituents known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the brightly coloured flavonoids pigments that help to protect against oxidative stress and have been demonstrated to protect against numerous diseases particularly those characterised by free radical damage.
As well as its antioxidant content, Rhubarb is definitely the vegetable of choice for anyone who suffers from constipation. It contains constituents known as anthraquinones that have a naturally stimulating action on the bowel. As a result rhubarb functions as a gentle, yet effective laxative making it the vegetable of choice when used for the treatment of chronic constipation.
Rhubarb is a good source of fibre, in particular insoluble fibre. It has been found to lower cholesterol concentrations in subjects with high cholesterol and in particular, may help to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol due to the fibre content in its stalk.
In the typical western diet, sweet and salty tastes predominate however one of the most unique and refreshing qualities about rhubarb is its tart flavour. This flavour contrasts beautifully with fruits such as apples and strawberries however rhubarb may also be used as a chutney or relish to be served with meats.
So this winter eat with the seasons and why not think beyond the usual apples and pears and go out and add a bunch of rhubarb to your shopping trolley? Look for rhubarb stalks that are firm, crisp and glossy and use stewed in porridge for breakfast or in a lovely dessert
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