Shades of Rhubarb

Is it important to seek out rhubarb that’s red versus green? Is the red color an indication of greater ripeness and better flavor?

We simmered chunks of red and green rhubarb in separate batches with orange juice and sugar (to soften the plant’s tartness) and asked tasters to compare them. All tasters found the red rhubarb to be far more appealing to look at, but they judged the green rhubarb just as vibrant in terms of taste. It turns out that a red color in rhubarb, a product of anthocyanin pigments, varies according to variety and is not necessarily an indication of ripeness. These pigments are nearly tasteless—in fact, they are used in natural food colorings because their flavor is virtually undetectable even in high concentrations. Red or green, rhubarb’s sour flavor is mainly due to the presence of oxalic and citric acids. So, for a better-looking dish, seek out the scarlet stalks, but the green ones will taste just as delicious.

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