Bakers, canners, and mixologists rejoice: rhubarb is in season! The stalky vegetable has just started to pop up at farmers markets and in stores, it’s blushing color a sign that warmer weather is finally upon us. If you’ve ever cooked with rhubarb before, you’ll know that it is intense in all the good ways: packed with tart, juicy flavor, it’s easily tamed with a bit of sweetness, although it can also work its sour-powered magic in savory recipes, too.
When shopping for it, choose long stalks that are firm and crisp, kind of like celery. Avoid ones that are soft and floppy; this is a sign that they’re less than fresh or, even worse, frost damaged. The leaves of the rhubarb plant contain oxalic acid, which can be poisonous if ingested, and this acid can work its way into the stalks of damaged plants. You should also take care to trim off any leaves, if they are still attached.
Rhubarb stalks can range in color from light green to a near-crimson color. While those with a deeper, redder hue may look prettier, the color actually has no effect on the ultimate sweetness of the stalk—the blush is simply the result of anthocyanidins, a flavorless natural pigment. In fact, green varietals are actually thought to be more robust and productive. So don’t be alarmed if you’ve got some green stalks on your hands—it doesn’t mean that your rhubarb is any less ripe or tasty.
And while rhubarb is a classic in pies and other desserts, we especially enjoy its bracing qualities in a thirst-quenching drink. So if you’ve got some on your hands, why not give one of these rhubarb-based drink recipes a whirl?
1. Rhubarb Syrup
Made by simmering the chopped up stalks with a bit of sugar and water, this rhubarb simple syrup is one of those easy-to-make, magical ingredients that we like to have around for adding a dash of sour-sweet flair to beverages and more. It can be mixed into club soda or iced tea for a quick refresher, but it really shines in cocktails, punches, and other alcoholic tipples. Get our Rhubarb Syrup recipe.
2. Touch of Evil
Based around bourbon, lemon, and the above rhubarb syrup, this cocktail has a bright and breezy summery-ness to it. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows—that “touch of evil” is the dash of potent absinthe, which adds a slightly subversive and hedonistic twist. Get our Touch of Evil recipe.
3. Knockout Punch
Got friends coming over? Share the rose-tinted love with this festive big-batch punch that balances tart and sweet in its mix of rhubarb, rum, soda, and Meyer lemon. Get our Knockout Punch recipe.
4. The Shrubarb
This one’s for all the lovers of things tart and funky. Based around a rhubarb-flavored shrub—that’s a vinegar-based syrup—this fizzy drink can be prepared with or without alcohol. Get the recipe here.
5. St. Tropez Rhubarb Club
This inventive cocktail embraces rhubarb’s straight flavor instead of letting it rest under a dose of sugar. Before adding a heady mixture of cognac, nardini amaro, and champagne, the stalk is rubbed along the insides of the glass, coating the surface with its distinctive essence. Get the recipe here.
6. Rhubarb Iced Tea
Rhubarb’s tartness mixes with more than just sweet and fruity flavors: it also plays well with floral and spice notes. In this recipe, it mingles with bergamot-laced earl grey, star anise, and vanilla bean, for an iced tea that has layers of complexity. Get the recipe here.
7. Rosemary Rhubarb Lemonade
Pink lemonade isn’t just for the strawberries and raspberries. Rhubarb can lend its blush to the summer standby, too, joining forces here with rosemary for a drink that is leagues beyond the powdered stuff from a can. Get the recipe here.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.