June 16, 2014

Rhubarb...for dessert or constipation?

Canada Red, Chipman, Cherry Red, Crimson Red, Egyptian Queen, Fraulein Sharfer Torte, German Wine, Glaskin's Perpetual, Hawke's Champagne, Holstein Bloodred, Linnaeus, Macdonald, Mammoth Red, Stott's Mammoth, Mammoth Green , Monarch, Prince Albert, Redstick, Riverside Giant, Ruby, Strawberry, Sunrise, Sutton, Tilden, Tottle's Improved, Timperely Early, Valentine.

These are but a few varieties of rhubarb. I find it really beautiful the first time one sees a list of the names of vegetable or fruit varieties. At first it reads like a some medieval fantasy sci-fi novel and then the idea of varieties sinks in.

now for a few fun 'facts'.....

-it seems that the pleasure of rhubarb is dependent almost entirely on sugar.

-perhaps a native of Siberia, called Rha, an ancient name or hydronym for the Volga where the plant grew wild.

-Earliest records date back to 2700 BC in China where rhubarb was cultivated for medicinal purposes (surprise surprise).

-rhubarb contains oxalate, which have been reported to cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested.

-we never imagined as children, armed with our packets of sugar while raiding the neighbour's rhubarb patch that there would be any other effect than something tasty, pure pleasure, never believe that they were used as anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, aperient, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, laxative, purgative, stomachic and tonic.

 -in a supermarket, even most outdoor markets, rhubarb is sold as rhubarb, not like apples. But somehow food has become food (unless it is tisane, or honey), and cures have become pharmaceutical here in North America. People eat rhubarb pie, but I never heard anyone mention "I am going to eat a whole bunch of rhubarb because I am constipated. No, most will call for a vitamin or a supplement, or some such liquid in a bottle (ie a controlled dosage.)

-Rhubarb is given to the Wu emperor of the Liang dynasty (reign: 557-579) to cure his fever but only after warning him that rhubarb, being a most potent drug, must be taken with great moderation.

-Rhubarb is a vegetable, but in the United States a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was consumed in the United States as a fruit it counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties.

-During World War I rhubarb leaves were recommended as a substitute for other veggies that the war made unavailable....well there were cases of acute poisoning and even some deaths.

-I once knew a guy who preferred vitamin C to a fresh orange because the fresh orange had the potential of making him fat.

-according to the NYU Langone Medical Center, rhubarb consumption can markedly increase oxalic acid levels in the urine. This could lead to increased risk of kidney stones, as well as other problems. Rhubarb leaf contains the highest oxalic acid content. The roots and stems contain less oxalic acid, but higher levels of anthraquinones, laxative substances similar to those found in senna or cascara. It is safest to use rhubarb standardized extracts processed to removed oxalic acid.

-rhubarb is part of the genus Rheum including dock, sorrel, knotweeds, knotgrasses and buckwheat.

-it is extremely difficult to find a recipe for rhubarb without sugar.

-rhubarb contains glycosides—especially rhein, glucorhein, and emodin, which impart cathartic and laxative properties ie in case of constipation, good for poopoo.

-rhubarb is never mentioned in one of the greatest history of food books History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat...unless I really missed it, or not important enough to find itself in the index.

-it was a pleasure eating rhubarb raw as a child, and still is.