Why are strawberries and rhubarb paired together?

Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic spring and summer flavor combination. The tartness of rhubarb complements the sweet juiciness of ripe strawberries. Together, they make a bright, vibrant filling for pies, tarts, crisps, and other desserts. So what makes this duo such a hit? Let’s take a closer look at the reasons strawberries and rhubarb pair so wonderfully.

Complementary Flavors

Strawberries have a sweet, floral flavor with just a hint of tartness. Rhubarb is extremely tart and sour on its own. When combined, the sweetness of the strawberries balances out the intense sourness of the rhubarb. The result is a tangy-sweet flavor combination that pops in the mouth. Neither flavor overpowers the other – instead, they complement each other.

Strawberry Sweetness

Ripe, juicy strawberries contribute delicious fruity sweetness. The natural sugars in strawberries help counteract the extreme tartness of raw rhubarb. Strawberries contain glucose and fructose as their primary sugars. These simple sugars register as sweet to our tastebuds. Sugar molecules bind to taste receptors on our tongues, sending signals to our brains that we are eating something sweet. The sweeter the food, the more sugar it contains. So strawberries help make rhubarb palatable by literally adding sweetness.

Rhubarb Tartness

Rhubarb stalks contain high levels of malic acid, an organic compound that gives the stalks their lip-puckering tartness. Malic acid stimulates receptors on our tongues that detect sour flavors. It’s so tart that rhubarb is rarely eaten raw. Adding sweet strawberries helps temper the intense sourness of raw rhubarb so the flavor becomes pleasing rather than overpowering. The tartness remains as a counterpoint to the sweetness instead of dominating.

Textural Contrast

In addition to complementary flavors, strawberries and rhubarb provide contrasting textures that enhance the eating experience. Strawberries are juicy and tender with tiny edible seeds. Rhubarb stalks are crisp and fibrous. When paired together and cooked into fillings, their differing textures come through. The strawberries break down into soft, tender bits while the rhubarb retains some fibrous firmness. The texture contrast makes every bite interesting.

Strawberry Texture

Ripe strawberries contain over 90% water, making them wonderfully juicy with a tender, nearly melting texture. When cooked down into sauces and fillings, strawberries transform into a soft, velvety texture with tiny seeds dispersed throughout. The thin skins and flesh practically dissolve into the mixture.

Rhubarb Texture

Raw rhubarb stalks have an extremely crisp, almost crunchy texture. Their cell walls contain abundant pectin and cellulose fibers that provide rigidity. When heated, rhubarb softens significantly but still retains some fibrousness. The stalks become stringy and tender but don’t fully dissolve. So rhubarb contributes both softness and fibrous strands to paired dishes.

Peak Seasonality

In addition to pairing well, strawberries and rhubarb have overlapping peak seasons in many temperate climates. Both come into season in spring and early summer. Strawberry season runs from spring through early summer. Rhubarb season starts in early spring and runs through summer. So for a few months, both ingredients are at the height of freshness and flavor.

Strawberry Season

Most strawberry varieties need warm daylight hours and cool nights to properly ripen. They grow best in sunny Mediterranean climates with mild oceanic breezes. In temperate continental climates, shortening day length signals the plants to initiate flower buds in fall. The buds go dormant over winter, then open into white flowers in spring. Provided the weather cooperates, strawberries start ripening from late spring through early summer when days lengthen and temperatures warm. June is peak strawberry harvest season in many northern temperate regions.

Rhubarb Season

Rhubarb is one of the few fruits (it’s usually treated as a fruit although botanically it’s a vegetable) that thrives in cool weather. It initiates growth when temperatures rise above 40°F. The stalks grow rapidly starting in early spring, reaching peak size by mid-spring. Cold winters followed by warm, wet springs provide ideal conditions. Rhubarb continues producing all summer but eventually the stalks become tough and woody. April through June is peak season in most rhubarb-growing regions.

Shared Growing Regions

Another reason strawberries and rhubarb pair naturally is that they thrive in similar temperate growing zones. So farmers in the same regions can produce both crops. Major strawberry and rhubarb production areas include the American Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, Northeastern North America, Northern Europe, and parts of Asia.

Strawberry Growing Regions

Over 70% of America’s strawberries come from California, particularly the coastal regions. Florida and other Southeastern states also grow significant quantities. For cooler climates, the Midwest and Northeast are important strawberry producers, especially Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Strawberries also grow across Northern Europe, from the United Kingdom over to Poland.

Rhubarb Growing Regions

America’s top rhubarb producers are located in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Michigan, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts lead production. Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest also grow considerable amounts of rhubarb. Outside North America, significant production occurs in Poland, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Shared Harvesting and Processing Infrastructure

It’s convenient that strawberries and rhubarb thrive in similar areas because they share infrastructure for harvesting, processing, and transportation when sourced from the same location. Both are extremely perishable after picking. Getting them rapidly cooled, processed, and frozen allows wider distribution. Pairing their harvest and processing enables efficient systems to get both ingredients from field to market.

Strawberry Harvest and Processing

Nearly all strawberries for commercial markets get harvested by hand to avoid bruising. They’re picked slightly underripe so they can be shipped. Berries are chilled immediately after picking to preserve freshness. Many get sent to processing plants located near production areas. There they are cleaned, sliced and frozen IQF (individually quick frozen) at optimal ripeness for longest shelf life.

Rhubarb Harvest and Processing

Rhubarb is also hand harvested, with stalks snapped off near the base. It’s typically harvested by pulling rather than cutting to avoid removing buds. Rhubarb stalks are crisp but delicate. Leaves are removed immediately since they contain toxic levels of oxalic acid. Cooling stations are set up in fields to remove field heat fast. At processing plants, stalks are washed, trimmed, diced, puréed or frozen.

Popular Pairings Through History

Strawberries and rhubarb have been paired for centuries in global cuisines. The combination shows up in recipes from England, America, and Northern Europe dating back to the 1800s. They earned popularity as an early seasonal fruit pairing before imported produce was available year-round.

Early American Cookbooks

Some of the earliest published strawberry and rhubarb pairings come from American cookbooks in the 1800s. For example, in 1832 the cookbook The Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child provided a recipe for Strawberry and Rhubarb Tartlets. The 1856 Putnam’s Home Cyclopedia cookbook contained Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam.

Victorian Era Britain and Europe

The Victorian Era saw rhubarb imports rise in Britain, making the ingredient more accessible. Rhubarb grown in heated hothouses enabled off-season availability. Victorian cookbooks and magazines provided recipes pairing stewed rhubarb with every possible fruit, including strawberries. Similar recipes appeared in France, Germany, Poland and Scandinavia.

America’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

In early 20th century America, strawberry-rhubarb pie rose to prominence. The classic dessert combining sweet berries and tart rhubarb in a flaky pie shell became an iconic summer treat. Recipes appeared in newspapers, magazines, fundraiser cookbooks, and household recipe cards across the country.

Modern Applications

Today strawberries and rhubarb remain a beloved pairing applied in diverse modern ways. Besides pie, they show up in all sorts of dishes:

Dish Description
Galettes Free-form tarts with strawberry-rhubarb filling
Tarts Mini tartlets or full-size tarts filled with paired flavors
Crisps Cobbler-like fruit dessert with oat streusel topping
Jam Spreadable preserved strawberry-rhubarb jam
Compote Stewed fruit mixture served over yogurt, ice cream, etc.
Sauce Pureed fruit topping for desserts
Juice Sweet-tart strawberry-rhubarb juice
Cocktails Mixed drinks featuring strawberry-rhubarb ingredients

Their natural affinity makes strawberries and rhubarb ideal for innovative applications beyond pie filling. Modern chefs use the duo in all types of dishes from savory to sweet.

Nutritional Benefits

Beyond their complementary flavors and textures, strawberries and rhubarb offer nutritional perks. They provide an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber with relatively low calorie counts.

Strawberry Nutrition

One cup of sliced strawberries contains:

  • 49 calories
  • 12 grams carbohydrates
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 98 mg vitamin C (more than RDA)
  • 29 mg folate
  • 24 mg anthocyanins (antioxidants)

Strawberries provide high levels of vitamin C, an essential nutrient that acts as an antioxidant in the body. They also deliver folate, manganese, potassium, and antioxidants called anthocyanins.

Rhubarb Nutrition

One cup of diced raw rhubarb contains:

  • 26 calories
  • 96 mg vitamin K (80% DV)
  • 105 mg vitamin C (70% DV)
  • 1.1 grams fiber
  • 177 mg calcium
  • 14 mg magnesium

Rhubarb is low in calories but high in vitamin C and vitamin K. It also provides calcium, magnesium and antioxidants like beta-carotene. The tartness comes from malic acid, which may benefit digestion when consumed in moderation.


Strawberries and rhubarb simply taste amazing together. Their flavors, textures, seasons, and regions naturally complement each other. This classic pairing has graced spring desserts for centuries, and it remains a beloved match for crave-worthy sweets and drinks. Pairing strawberries and rhubarb also provides great nutritional benefits. So next time you see this dynamic duo featured in a recipe, give it a try!

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