For those interested in eating rhubarb for its comprehensive health benefits, cooking the vegetable in the oven may be the ideal way to prepare it. Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University and the Scottish Crop Research Institute have found that baking garden rhubarb for 20 minutes can dramatically increase its levels of anti-cancer chemicals.
Using liquid chromatography analysis, the researchers identified 40 polyphenols in raw rhubarb. These chemicals, which include anthraquinone, stilbene and flavonol derivatives, have been shown to selectively kill or prevent the growth of some cancer cells.
Compared to eating the raw vegetable, baking significantly increased total rhubarb polyphenol content, bringing out the highest antioxidant capacity. However, there was a dramatic decrease in the beneficial chemicals with extended cooking time.
"Our research has shown that British rhubarb is a potential source of pharmacological agents that may be used to develop new anti-cancerous drugs," concluded Nikki Jordan-Mahy from Sheffield Hallam University’s Biomedical Research Center.
Scientists are now looking to use the findings to study the effect of rhubarb’s polyphenols on leukemia, including those strains that have been proven to be resistant to treatment.