Can you cook rhubarb without sugar?

Quick answers

Yes, you can absolutely cook rhubarb without adding sugar. Some ways to do this include:

  • Roast rhubarb with seasonings like cinnamon or cardamom to bring out its natural sweetness.
  • Pair rhubarb with fruits like strawberries, oranges, apples which add natural sweetness.
  • Add rhubarb to savory dishes like chutneys, salsa, chicken or fish dishes.
  • Blend rhubarb into smoothies along with fruits, vegetables and Greek yogurt.

What is rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is often prepared like a fruit in sweet desserts. It has a very tart, sour flavor. The stalks are the edible portion, while the leaves are toxic and should not be eaten.

Rhubarb grows well in colder climates. It is one of the first plants to be ready for harvest in spring. The prime season for rhubarb runs from April through June.

Does rhubarb require added sugar?

Rhubarb has a tart, sour taste. Many recipes call for adding sugar when cooking rhubarb to balance out some of that tartness. However, added sugar is not absolutely necessary when cooking rhubarb.

Here are some ways that you can sweeten rhubarb without adding refined sugars:

  • Roast the rhubarb – Roasting brings out rhubarb’s natural sweetness by concentrating its flavors.
  • Pair rhubarb with naturally sweet ingredients – Fruits like strawberries, oranges, apples and pears complement rhubarb’s tartness.
  • Use honey or maple syrup sparingly – A small amount of natural liquid sweetener can round out rhubarb’s flavor.
  • Focus on savoriness – Rhubarb works well in chutneys, salsas, marinades and other savory applications.

Ways to cook rhubarb without sugar

Roast rhubarb

One of the simplest ways to prepare rhubarb without added sugar is to roast it. Roasting concentrates rhubarb’s natural flavors and produces a delicious caramelized, sweet flavor.

To roast rhubarb:

  • Wash and trim rhubarb stalks. Cut into 1-2 inch pieces.
  • Toss rhubarb with a small amount of oil, just enough to lightly coat it.
  • Spread rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  • Roast at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, stirring once, until rhubarb is tender and caramelized.
  • Remove from oven and season with a pinch of salt and spices like cinnamon or cardamom.

Delicious ways to use roasted rhubarb include:

  • Topping for oatmeal, yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Salad topping
  • Mixed into granola
  • Swirled into nut butter

Rhubarb compote

Compotes are a simple way to prepare fruit in a lightly sweetened syrup. Rhubarb compote highlights rhubarb’s natural tart flavor.

To make rhubarb compote:

  • Wash, trim and chop 1 lb rhubarb.
  • Add rhubarb and 1/4 cup water to a saucepan.
  • Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes until rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup.
  • For added flavor, add a cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, lemon zest or ginger to the compote as it cooks.
  • Let compote cool to room temperature before serving.

Enjoy rhubarb compote:

  • Spooned over yogurt, oatmeal or ricotta toast
  • Served alongside grilled fish or chicken
  • Swirled into cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
  • As a topping for cheesecake or angel food cake

Rhubarb chutney

Chutneys are a bold, flavorful way to prepare rhubarb without needing added sugar. Spices, vinegar, aromatics and only a touch of sweetness are used.

To make rhubarb chutney:

  • Wash, trim and dice 1 lb rhubarb.
  • Peel and finely dice 1 small onion.
  • In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, onion, 1 chopped jalapeno, 1 Tbsp minced ginger, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 garlic clove and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar.
  • Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 2 Tbsp honey or maple syrup.
  • For spicier chutney, add more jalapenos.

Serve rhubarb chutney:

  • With grilled chicken, pork or salmon
  • As a sandwich or burger topping
  • With cheese, crackers and charcuterie
  • Alongside Indian curries or lentil dishes

Baked rhubarb with oranges

Baking rhubarb with complementary fruits is a great way to naturally sweeten it. Oranges add bright sweetness that balances rhubarb’s tartness.

To make baked rhubarb with oranges:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Wash, trim and cut 1 lb rhubarb into 1 inch pieces.
  • Place rhubarb in a baking dish.
  • Add the zest and juice from one large orange.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape.
  • Remove from oven and serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
  • For added flavor, add a cinnamon stick or star anise to the baking dish.

Use baked rhubarb with oranges:

  • Spooned over yogurt, oatmeal or ricotta toast
  • As a topping for cakes or ice cream
  • In fruit salads or compotes
  • Swirled into cottage cheese

Savory ways to cook rhubarb without sugar

Rhubarb’s bold tart flavor profile also works well in savory dishes. Adding rhubarb to savory sauces, condiments and mains allows its flavor to shine without requiring added sugar.

Rhubarb barbecue sauce

Tart rhubarb makes an excellent addition to zesty barbecue sauces, contributing flavor without extra sweetness.

To make rhubarb barbecue sauce:

  • Wash, trim and dice 1 lb rhubarb.
  • In a saucepan, stir together the rhubarb, 1 diced onion, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 cup ketchup, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp chili powder and 1/4 tsp each of salt, pepper and cayenne.
  • Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes until thickened.
  • For smoky flavor, add a dash of smoked paprika.
  • Puree sauce with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.

Try rhubarb barbecue sauce:

  • As a dip for chicken wings or fingers
  • Brush on pork chops or salmon before grilling
  • Add flavor to meatloaf or hamburgers

Rhubarb peach salsa

Rhubarb’s tartness works perfectly in homemade salsas, complementing sweet, ripe summer peaches.

To make rhubarb peach salsa:

  • Wash, trim and dice 1 lb rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Dice 2 ripe peaches into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • In a bowl, mix together the rhubarb, peaches, 1 minced shallot, 1 jalapeno pepper diced, the juice from 1 lime, a large handful of chopped cilantro, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper.
  • For spicier salsa, add an extra jalapeno.
  • Let salsa sit for 30 minutes for flavors to develop.

Enjoy rhubarb peach salsa:

  • With tortilla chips
  • Spooned over grilled fish or chicken
  • As a unique burger or sandwich topping
  • Stirred into cottage cheese or black bean salad

Rhubarb chutney pork chops

Sweet and savory pork chops are topped with tart rhubarb chutney instead of sugary fruit compotes or sauces.

To make rhubarb chutney pork chops:

  • Make a simple rhubarb chutney if you don’t have any on hand.
  • Season 4 boneless pork chops with salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Cook pork chops 3-5 minutes per side until browned and cooked through.
  • To serve, top pork chops with a spoonful of rhubarb chutney.

Tips for enjoying rhubarb without sugar

  • Experiment with different cooking methods – Roasting, baking, simmering in compotes, adding to savory dishes all produce delicious results.
  • Get creative with flavor combinations – Rhubarb works well with oranges, peaches, ginger, chili powder, curry and many other flavors.
  • Retain texture – Be careful not to overcook rhubarb into mush. Retain some bite and texture.
  • Season with salt and spices – A pinch of salt and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom enhances rhubarb’s flavor.
  • Sample as you cook – Taste rhubarb as you prepare it. The tartness will mellow during cooking.
  • Use liquid sweeteners judiciously – A drizzle of maple syrup or honey can round out rhubarb’s flavor if needed.

Recipe ideas for rhubarb without sugar

Here are some additional recipe ideas for preparing rhubarb without added sugars:

Recipe Ingredients Steps
Rhubarb smoothie Rhubarb, banana, yogurt, milk Blend rhubarb, banana, yogurt, milk and ice. Adjust tartness with banana and yogurt.
Rhubarb overnight oats Rhubarb, oats, yogurt, cinnamon Mix diced rhubarb into overnight oats. Add cinnamon and top with yogurt.
Rhubarb maple syrup Rhubarb, maple syrup, vanilla Simmer rhubarb and maple syrup with vanilla bean. Blend and strain.
Grilled rhubarb salad Rhubarb, lettuce, goat cheese, almonds Grill rhubarb. Toss with greens, goat cheese and almonds.
Rhubarb lemonade Rhubarb, lemon juice, water Puree rhubarb with water and lemon juice. Strain for lemonade.
Rhubarb sorbet Rhubarb, orange, honey Puree rhubarb with orange juice and honey. Freeze in an ice cream maker.


With its bright tart flavor, rhubarb is ideal for preparing without added sugars. Roasting it, pairing with complementary fruits, and using in savory dishes are all great options. A small amount of natural sweetener can be used judiciously if needed. With its short seasonal window, enjoyexperimenting with rhubarb’s tasty and versatile stalks.

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