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February: Rhubarb

ML3-Tech-Rhubarb

 Rhubarb is a species of the Polygonaceae family, it a herbaceous perennial growing from short thick rhizomes. It's quickly becoming a fashionable addition to catering kitchens as a rich flavouring for desserts and the gin industry.

Although the leaves are poisonous it's long stalks or petioles are edible with a strong, tart taste. The stalks are normally cooked with sugar to combat the tartness and made into crumbles, pies and compots.

The earliest records regarding Rhubarb date back to 2700 BC China, where it was being cultivated for its purgative qualities in medicinal use. Marco Polo talks about the rhubarb rhizome in his accounts of his travels of China, and Chinese Rhubarb was widely used in European pharmacies. A planting of Rhubarb is recorded in 1608 and 30 years later in Europe, the earliest known use of Rhubarb as a food product was used as a pie filling

The roots and stems of Rhubarb are rich in anthraquinones which are cathartic and laxative, explaining it's history of being used as a dietary aid. It also contains dietary fibre, proteins, vitamins C, K and complex B vitamins, as well as calcium, potassium, manganese and magnesium. The Rhubarb rhizomes contain stilbenoid compounds which have been seen to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic mice, further studies are taking place to test its full medicinal use.

Rhubarb can be grown on a wide range of soil types, as long as it's well drained but does prefer a high proportion of organic matter. It's propagated by planting pieces or crowns formed during the preceding season, only disease free crowns are selected for division. High quality crowns can be difficult to source as established growers have selected quality types over the years to suit the environments and the market they supply.

Forced Yorkshire grown Rhubarb has a PDO status – product of designated origin and is only available between January and April.

From an accidental discovery in Chelsea London in 1817, the early basic technique of growing rhubarb out of season began, initially by warming the root by covering with organic manure whilst still in the ground. In 1877 it came to Yorkshire.

This was the first place in the world that special sheds were built for the purpose of forcing, and the technique as still used today was devised by the local Yorkshire growers. The soil in the area proved perfect for growth of the substantial root systems necessary to produce sufficient yields to cover the high costs of production. In the late 1800s rhubarb's popularity grew so high there were over 200 dedicated producers alone in the Triangle - a set area (Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford), to a given method. Two or three year old crowns are lifted by hand, and placed into a dark shed. The tender stems are harvested by candle light

Yorkshire Forced rhubarb's colour is enhanced by the absence of light resulting in a gossamer skin with a white inside flesh. When cooked, Yorkshire Forced rhubarb is very tender, and the flavour is more delicate and less acidic than its counterparts.

Common issues in growing Rhubarb are Crown Rot, caused by various soil or water-borne fungi or bacteria. Plants look sickly, fail to grow and rot at the crown; this can spread to stems and foliage causing the plant die. As well as slugs and snails, who particularly enjoy feeding on young stems.

You can contact ML3 Technical Services Limited to ensure your systems and procedures meet the required standard to ensure food safety to the end consumer. 

The Press for Progress
December: Brussel Sprouts
 

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