Rhubarb syrup – stirred in ice water and enjoyed on a warm summer day – is a staple of Swedish summer. There is nothing as refreshing as a cold glass of rabarbersaft. And since every other person in Sweden has rhubarb growing in their garden you can imagine how popular this drink is up here. It’s also surprisingly easy, and a great way to use this unusual plant.
Since I moved to Sweden I’ve had this thing that rhubarb equals summer. When rhubarb starts making an appearance in people’s backyards and in people’s pies I know we have officially transitioned into the warm season. Rhubarb is not something I grew up with as it grows in colder climates than Italy’s. So while my Swedish friends almost take it for granted, I’m still not over the fascination phase.
Rhubarb is indeed an interesting being. Technically, it’s a vegetable. But it’s mostly employed in pies and in general used in sweet recipes, so it’s treated like a fruit. The stalks – the edible part – look like celery, but rhubarb has nothing to do with celery. And finally the leaves – that can be as big as umbrellas if the plant is old enough – are toxic. But just discard them and you can enjoy the stalks. Fascinating.
So… what do I do with rhubarb?
Poisonous, but only the leaves. Bite into a stalk and you’ll find it brightly sour. If unfamiliar with rhubarb, this ingredient may seem at first slightly intimidating. But cook it with some water and sugar and you’ll extract the tart flavour, tamed by the added sweetness. Stewed rhubarb is a favourite yoghurt or oatmeal topping. This is the basic recipe for rhubarb syrup, too.
The majority of rhubarb recipes are for pies or cakes, though. My very first adventure with rhubarb was in fact a strawberry rhubarb crisp that is totally delicious. If only had I known that making rhubarb syrup was this easy, I would have given myself a softer start. But now I know and now you know, too. So if you are a beginner but really want to do something with them pretty green and red stalks go and make some rhubarb syrup now.
Remember that rhubarb leaves are not edible so you only need to use the stalks.
How to make rhubarb syrup
- Once you have removed the leaves, clean the rhubarb stalks and trim the root end. If you notice that the skin is tough you can pull it off, but I generally avoid doing that as I want to keep the red parts to colour my syrup. Chop the rhubarb stalks to 1-2 cm thick slices. Add them to a stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot and toss with sugar. Rest 30 minutes.
- Add the water and lemon juice and place on medium heat. Bring to a boil and when the mixture boils lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb turns soft and the water becomes light pink.
- Strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve and into a clean glass bottle or jar. Keep refrigerated.
Rhubarb syrup tips
Due to the high acidity of both rhubarb and lemon, you need to use non-reactive cookware like stainless steel or enameled cast iron. Cooking vessels made of aluminium, copper or non-enameled iron react to the acidity of the rhubarb causing discoloration of both the food and the pan.
You don’t have to discard the cooked rhubarb leftovers after you’ve strained away the syrup. Try it over yoghurt, vanilla ice cream or oatmeal! However, you don’t have to use it if you don’t enjoy the mushy texture.
Due to the rather high sugar content, rhubarb syrup keeps in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. If you want to store it for a longer time, you can either freeze it or sterilize the bottle or jars you’ve poured it into. Both frozen or sterilized will keep for up to a year – in the freezer or in a cool place away from direct sunlight respectively.
How to use it
Stir 1 part rhubarb syrup into 4 parts of ice-cold water – still or sparkling. Add ice cubes and enjoy this refreshing beverage every Swede adores. If you want it sweeter go ahead and add more, you don’t have to follow my proportions – you do you.
Rhubarb syrup is a lovely ingredient in cocktails, too. Use it to make a delicious rhubarb gin and tonic, or add some to sparkling wine to make rhubarb bellini. You can also make mocktails with it by adding more ingredients to the rhubarb and water base.
This rhubarb syrup is a lovely complement to desserts, too. Try it over vanilla ice cream, pancakes or panna cotta. The peculiar sweet and sour flavour with its herbaceous notes will deliver a fresh and summery touch to your desserts.
You may also like
If you like rhubarb or you want to find more rhubarb inspiration, here are some recipes you can also try:
Do you like rhubarb? Did you ever try to make rhubarb syrup? Let me know in the comments and if you liked this recipe here are two pins you can add to your boards.
Homemade rhubarb syrup
Simple rhubarb syrup recipe to use on dessert or as a cocktail ingredient.
- 500 g rhubarb stalks, leaves removed
- 250 g sugar
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 750 ml water
Clean the rhubarb stalks and trim the root end. Chop the rhubarb stalks into 1-2 cm thick slices. Add to a stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot (non-reactive cookware) and toss with sugar. Rest 30 minutes.
Add the water and lemon juice and place on medium heat. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft and the water becomes light pink.
Strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve and into a clean glass bottle or jar. Keep refrigerated.
The nutritional information provided is only meant as a guideline and takes into account only a small serving of syrup if enjoyed with water. If adding the rhubarb syrup to a different drink (like a cocktail) the final calorie count will be higher.