Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rhubarb Survey

Lauveen and I have been talking about that classic prairie delicacy, rhubarb. The best part of talking about rhubarb is this whimsical discussion: "Rhubarb - Vegetable or Fruit??" It must be a fruit. It's tart. It's used to make desserts. But wait! It looks like celery. The edible portion is part of the plant itself, not something that grows off the plant. It must be a vegetable.

What do you think? Weigh in on this oh-so-serious survey.

Now I DON'T want you to run to the plant encyclopedia and look it up. That would spoil the whimsy.

Let me amend the question. What do you FEEL that rhubarb should be - fruit or veg?? And tell us why.


Blogger Eileen said...

I'm going with vegetable, more for botanical reasons. Fruit generally refers to the "fruiting" part of a plant, e.g., the part that contains seeds. Or so I seem to recall.

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Rhubarb is a weed (okay, I know that it really is either a fruit or a vegetable..but I don't know which..could it be herb?)
..I can't imagine "paying" for it at the grocery store, it grows everywhere (at least that is what I remember from when I was younger)..I remember picking pieces and dipping it in sugar and eating it (no wonder I had soo many cavities as a child) I don't even remember washing it before eating it?

3:27 pm  
Blogger PostCards said...

I'm guessing vegetable, because you don't harvest something from it, like you would a berry bush or an apple tree, you actually eat the thing itself, like a turnip or a carrot. I remember once reading about a certain class of vegetarians called 'fruitarians', who only eat things that don't kill the whole plant (because plants have feelings too!) I'm guessing fruitarians would stay away from rhubarb, therefore I am guessing it's a vegetable.

5:13 am  
Blogger FLYBYU said...

Now I see why you were happy I was using the Library, you work there. :)
I use it quite often and I seem to donate you guys a lot of money because I also seem to forget to take my books back until it's too late. As for the survey, I'll have to go with vegetable, the stalks are what you eat, just like celery and generally fruit grows off the plant, it isn't a part of it.

9:44 am  
Anonymous Lauveen said...

Wow, you other commenters are so technical. It doesn't matter where the seeds are or if you're killing the whole plant when you eat it! What really matters is:
1. When do you eat it? For dessert!
2. Do you put sugar on it?
So it's a fruit.

10:46 am  
Blogger liz said...

I would have to say technically it's a vegetable, even though the best way to eat it is in a delicious, creamy rhubarb custard pie. Mmmm....pie....

(While personally this makes it a fruit for me, I am also aware that this kind of thing varies from culture to culture. For example, in Brazil the avocado is eaten with sugar and lemon juice as befitting its fruit status.)

4:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Liz that putting sugar on it, and eating it for dessert does not make it a fruit. I think it's a vegetable, for reasons given above, ie. it's like celery. It's too late for me to think of other more original reasons ... But ... it definitely is a curious plant.

11:27 pm  
Blogger Eileen said...

I am posting this anonymously for a horticultural friend who says:

'You should tell your sister that rhubarb is a fruit and not a vegetable. The terms “fruit” and “vegetable” can be read in two ways. Reading them in the culinary sense, a fruit is a plant or plant part eaten as a dessert or a confection while a vegetable is a plant or plant part eaten with the main meal. Since rhubarb pie comes after the meal with ice cream on top, it fits the culinary definition of a fruit.

If we look at these same words in a botanical context a fruit is clearly only ever a ripened ovary usually containing one or more seeds. The word “vegetable” has no botanical meaning other than specifying that the item in question is neither animal nor mineral.

To show where the line blurs with culinary definitions I always cite the pumpkin. Clearly as a ripened ovary it is botanically a fruit; in a culinary sense however you can cut a pumpkin in half baking one half and serving it as vegetable squash with the potatoes and meat. If the other half is baked into a pie and served with whipped cream it is a fruit.

The definition of fruit vs. vegetable was actually set into law by the American Supreme Court in an 1893 declaration in the case Nix vs. Hedden. An 1887 law imposed a tariff on the importation of vegetables but not fruit. The tomato growers therefore declared the tomato a fruit to dodge the tax. The case progressed through the courts for six years until it landed at the Supreme Court where the judges declared that that the tomato is a vegetable, using the popular definition, which classifies fruit by use: they are generally served
with dinner and not with dessert.

Of course if you define rhubarb botanically it is neither a fruit nor a vegetable. It is clearly a petiole—the stalk that joins a leaf blade to the stem of the plant. The only other petioles that we eat are those of celery,
fennel and boc choi.' -Anon.

...Hmmm, and aren't celery, fennel and boc choi all thought of as vegetables? Even after that highly educated response, I STILL think rhubarb's a veg. Of course I don't eat rhubarb, so maybe that's why I'm so certain. -Celine

8:29 am  
Blogger liz said...

The one important thing that all of us have left out of this is the part where rhubarb is *poison*!

At least the salad-ish bits of it.

4:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To ingest a leathal dose of oxalic acid, the average sized person would have to eat about ten pounds of rhubarb leaf blades. That's one "big salad." I don't think most people have anything to worry about when it comes to the toxicity of rhubarb leaves.

8:47 pm  
Blogger liz said...

Probably not, but my poison control sheet admonishes me to keep my incipient baby (at a much smaller weight than I am) away from it anyway. (We don't even have any rhubarb growing.)

Now, off to feed some chocolate to the dog.... [kidding!!]

9:02 am  
Blogger MicaelaA said...

I'll trade you one fruited tomato for one vegetated rhubarb...

I going with the culinary use, therefore. I didn't realize that vegetable is not actually a botanical term.

Oh, and I eat chard - rarely, but it is pretty in the garden, and after you grow it, you have to try it. I believe the petiole as well as the leaf can be consumed, unlike the rhubarb.

Which I love most in Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam, by the way.

2:45 pm  
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8:59 am  

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