Rhubarb is a vegetable that is commonly used in pies, jams, and other foods. Many people enjoy the tart, sour taste of rhubarb. While cooked rhubarb is certainly safe to eat, there is some debate over whether it is safe to consume raw rhubarb. In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at the safety and risks associated with eating raw rhubarb.
The Potential Risks of Raw Rhubarb
The main safety concern with raw rhubarb stems from its high concentration of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is found in many common foods, but rhubarb has an exceptionally high amount. Eating very high oxalic acid foods over a long period could potentially increase the risk of kidney stones in some people.
In rare cases, a very high oxalic acid intake could potentially cause temporary throat swelling or difficulties breathing. While this is extremely uncommon, there are a few documented cases of people having reactions after eating large amounts of raw rhubarb.
Rhubarb leaves are also considered unsafe to eat due to their high concentration of oxalic acid as well as anthraquinone glycosides. These compounds could have toxic effects if a very large amount of leaves were consumed at once.
Assessing Your Personal Risk
When assessing your own personal risk for eating raw rhubarb, there are a few key factors to consider:
- Serving size – Eating a small or moderate serving of raw rhubarb is likely safe for most people. Consuming very large portions repeatedly over time is when potential risks may increase.
- Individual tolerance – Some people are more sensitive to oxalates than others. If you’ve ever had issues with kidney stones, gout, or other conditions related to oxalates, you may want to avoid raw rhubarb.
- Other dietary sources – Your overall dietary oxalate intake matters. If you eat other high-oxalate foods regularly like spinach, nuts, and chocolate, raw rhubarb may be riskier than for someone with low oxalate intake.
- Cooking method – Lightly cooking rhubarb significantly reduces its oxalic acid content while retaining some of the tart flavor.
Safety Tips for Eating Raw Rhubarb
If you want to incorporate some raw rhubarb into your diet, here are some tips to do so safely:
- Start with a small serving such as 1/2 cup diced raw rhubarb and see how your body responds.
- Mix raw rhubarb with lower oxalate foods like berries or melons rather than eating it alone.
- Peel rhubarb stalks before eating them raw to remove some oxalates.
- Drink plenty of fluids to flush out any excess oxalates.
- Avoid giving raw rhubarb to children or anyone with kidney issues.
Nutritional Benefits of Rhubarb
When prepared safely, rhubarb is quite nutritious and provides some unique health benefits. Here’s an overview of the nutrition in a 1 cup serving of diced raw rhubarb (122g):
|10mg (17% DV)
|41mcg (52% DV)
|0.2mg (9% DV)
|86mg (9% DV)
Rhubarb is high in antioxidants, including anthocyanins that give rhubarb its red color. Antioxidants help protect the body from oxidative damage and may lower inflammation.
Some additional evidence suggests rhubarb could potentially:
- Improve digestion
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Support heart health
- Have antimicrobial properties
However, more research is needed to confirm some of these specific benefits.
Cooked vs Raw Rhubarb
Cooking rhubarb significantly reduces its total oxalate content, while still retaining some of the tart, sour flavor. In one study, cooking rhubarb reduced its total oxalate content by:
- Boiling – 41% reduction
- Simmering – 43% reduction
- Baking – 58% reduction
This reduction is substantial enough to allow most people to safely eat larger portions of cooked rhubarb without risk. Cooked rhubarb makes an excellent addition to pies, jams, sauces, and baked goods.
While raw rhubarb is higher in oxalates, it retains more vitamin C and antioxidants. So you do get some different nutritional benefits from raw rhubarb. As long as serving sizes are moderate, raw rhubarb can be safely incorporated into recipes like smoothies, salads, overnight oats, and chia pudding.
Can Dogs Eat Rhubarb?
It’s best to avoid feeding rhubarb to dogs, whether raw or cooked. Dogs appear to be sensitive to the toxins found in rhubarb leaves and stalks. Both cooked and raw rhubarb contain oxalates that could potentially cause kidney damage in dogs.
Some sources suggest removing all leaves and only feeding the stalks in very small amounts once in awhile. However, due to the risks, it’s safer to avoid rhubarb altogether for dogs.
Raw rhubarb does contain oxalic acid, which could potentially cause risks if large amounts are eaten frequently. However, the small amounts of raw rhubarb used to add tart flavor to recipes are unlikely to be harmful for most people. If you want to eat raw rhubarb, stick to small servings and consider lightly cooking it to reduce oxalates if consuming large amounts.
As with any new food, pay attention to how your body responds. Anyone with a history of kidney stones or other conditions related to oxalates may want to avoid raw rhubarb altogether. Consulting with your healthcare provider can help determine if raw rhubarb is safe for your individual health needs.