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In spring, pleasures that seemed half forgotten over the winter can be found on the plate again. Asparagus, radishes and spinach are the perennial favorites here, but May would be nothing without a sour rhubarb compote. The red-green knotweed plant is often boiled down or processed into syrup and offered as a dessert. The question now is whether rhubarb is a fruit, as is so often assumed, or a vegetable?

Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable?

Rhubarb is a crop from the Rheum genus of the same name and the knotweed family. Rhubarb grows as a perennial that sprout from thickened roots and forms large leaves and flowers in addition to strong stems, also called rhubarb stalks.

The answer first: rhubarb is a leafy greens. Learn more…

Many people do not know that the plant even has an infructescence, since only the stalks are used by humans. However, this can often only be seen in the natural distribution area in the Himalayan mountains. The following culinary products are traditionally made from the stalks of the plant, which are previously peeled and boiled:

  • jam
  • compote
  • Pastries, especially cakes
  • syrup
  • juice
  • ice cream
  • less often in tart dishes

Because of the high salary oxalic acid, also called oxalic acid, Rheum rhabarbarum is boiled and processed before consumption. Once cooked, the plant is safe to enjoy, even for people who are sensitive to oxalic acid, which binds the body's calcium and can lead to kidney stones in a weakened body and an unbalanced diet.

Rhubarb is eaten by April to 24. June, the day of St. John, because from this time on the roots go into hibernation and the production of oxalic acid is increased. Four cultivars are mainly sold in Germany:

  • Holstein blood
  • Holstein noble blood
  • Goliath
  • Raspberry Rhubarb (Frambozen Rood)

The individual varieties have different stem and leaf colors, aromas and oxalic acid content. However, they have one thing in common: they are all a vegetable. Yes, rhubarb is a so-called leafy vegetable, which is also included in the group of stemmed vegetables, since it is not the leaves but only the stalks of the perennial that are used. The resulting fruit is not used, which would be a prerequisite for the designation as fruit at least fruit vegetables. Nevertheless, from a botanical point of view, Rheum rhabarbarum does not belong to the group of fruits and therefore not to fruit.

difference between fruit and vegetables

The biggest reason for confusing the knotweed plant as a fruit is the fact that in Germany and other western countries only the stalks are used for sweets and desserts. This means that the plant belongs in the collective term for fruits, as do melons, although they are not. Vegetables are the edible parts of the plant that are not the fruit, i.e.:

  • root
  • stems
  • leaves
  • seed

The distinction is not difficult with rhubarb, because here only the stalks are used and the fruit is not used at all. The only thing that puts the plant a little more on the fruit side is its growth habit. Perennial plants such as all fruit trees, for example, are among them and Rheum rhabarbarum is a perennial herb that sprout again every year. That would again speak for a fruit, but with an apple tree the bark or the branches are not consumed. In the home of the knotweed plant, only the roots are valuable for Chinese medicine, which speaks for the classification as a vegetable.

notice: When the first rhubarb plants were used as food in England in the 18th century, these were also only the stalks. However, like celery, these were served with meat and other dishes and not with sugar, which shows that rhubarb has always been a vegetable.

reasons for the mix-up

Despite the clear demarcation to other types of fruit, of course, except for the growth, the reason for the classification in the collective term of fruit is the use for desserts. In Germany, the language usage is structured in such a way that all "sweet" parts of plants are classified in this group, even if biologically it is not a type of fruit. This makes the classification of many plant varieties extremely difficult, as can be seen with the following other plants:

  • Tomatoes: Fruit vegetable, not a vegetable plant
  • Strawberries: not berries, but nuts
  • Melons: not a fruit plant, but a fruiting vegetable
  • Cashew: not a nut, but a stone fruit, i.e. a kernel

These are just a few examples of how the actual name of the food is twisted, which is deeply rooted in the language. This can also be observed in other cultures, for example in the western, English-speaking world. Rhubarb has even been legally listed as a fruit in the USA since 1947 and must be sold under this name. It should be noted here that the English word for fruit "fruit" has the same meaning as fruit in Germany. This means that despite using the stalks, it is sold as a fruit, which of course is not true. Rhubarb is clearly a vegetable, more specifically a petiole vegetable.

What is leafy greens?

Leafy greens are a specialized term for both leafy and stem greens that don't fall directly into either category. Another term would be "stem vegetables", which, however, does not come from botany, but is anchored in the vocabulary again. The following plants are listed under stem vegetables:

  • rhubarb
  • chard
  • asparagus
  • celery stalk

You see, all these plants have leaves, but humans don't eat them. In contrast, the stalks are used, but they bear the leaves, flowers and possible fruit, which are inedible to humans or consumed only as a by-product. This means that Rheum rhabarbarum is a vegetable, more precisely a leafy vegetable, which is colloquially classified as a stem or petiole vegetable. Rhubarb only has the name in common with fruit and that it is used in western culture for sweet dishes. In the eastern culture, on the other hand, it is a classic vegetable.

notice: If the flower of the rhubarb is cooked, it can also be eaten. Flowers, on the other hand, if they do not produce fruit, are not integrated into either of the two collective groups, which speaks even more strongly for the classification as a vegetable plant despite its use.

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