What Is Arugula?

Green, crispy, with that famous, peppery flavor – arugula is one of the most popular leafy greens. You can buy it in most supermarkets, at your local farmers’ market, or even try and grow it yourself.

Just like other salad greens, arugula is rich in many important nutrients your body needs to function just right. Read on to learn more about arugula, its nutritional value and health benefits, and some of our favorite arugula recipes.

Arugula (Eruca sativa) is a popular salad green. However, it’s not lettuce – it is actually a member of the brassica family, which also includes cruciferous vegetables like mustard greens, cabbage, and broccoli. Arugula, also known as rocket, rucola, or roquette, is native to the Mediterranean region. As such, it has long been a mainstay of Italian, Greek, and many other regional cuisines.

Just like with other leafy green vegetables, the appearance of arugula can help you determine whether it’s fresh or not. Ideally, your arugula leaves should be perky and bright green in color, without yellow discolorations. Some leaves will have pointy ends, while others will be more rounded. If the arugula you see in a store has soggy, wilted leaves, it’s probably past its expiry date.

Arugula Flavor

The flavor of arugula is peppery, spicy, slightly tart, and a bit nutty. It is a well-liked addition to salad mixtures because of its fresh and bold flavor profile. You can taste the spicy, peppery bite, especially in raw arugula – with soft leaves and a crisp stem, its texture resembles fresh spinach. If you don’t want your arugula to pack a punch in your dishes, cook it – it’s going to have a milder flavor. Keep in mind that the older your arugula gets, the more bitter it will taste, so once you get it, make sure to use it quickly.

Arugula Leafs

What Is Baby Arugula?

Simply put, baby arugula is just an arugula that has had its young and tender leaves harvested earlier. As such, they don’t have the same flavor intensity as full-sized arugula leaves. You might prefer them if you struggle with the strong flavor of regular, peppery arugula – baby arugula has a much more mellow taste to it.

Arugula Storage

If you want to enjoy fresh arugula, you need to store it properly. The ideal environment for arugula leaf storage is one that is both cool and damp. You can keep loose arugula leaves in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator by loosely wrapping them in paper towels – this way, they will last up to 2 days. If you want to keep them fresh for longer, don’t wash them until right before usage.

When it comes to bagged or boxed arugula, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to five days. After you open it, use it within a few days.

Arugula Substitutes

If you’re looking for a substitute for arugula, you can’t go wrong with watercress. It’s a different leafy vegetable found in the cruciferous family and has a similar peppery flavor. Dandelion greens, mixed greens, baby spinach, and baby kale can also be used as alternatives, but they won’t have quite the same bite to them as arugula. You may also use baby spinach, baby kale, mixed greens, and dandelion greens as an alternative. However, the flavor won’t be as bold.

Arugula Nutrition

According to the nutrient database of the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA), a cup of arugula (about 20 grams or 0.7055oz) contains approximately 5 calories. It also contains 0.6g of protein and less than 0.2g of fat.

Additionally, a cup of arugula equals:

  • 27.7% of vitamin K
  • 3.2% of calcium
  • 2.5% of vitamin C

That’s all according to the FDA’s daily nutritional goals for adults.

As for other nutrients, arugula contains some iron, magnesium, potassium, folate, and provitamin A.

Arugula nutrition

Arugula Health Benefits

Just like other cruciferous vegetables, this peppery leafy green has many health benefits and makes an excellent addition to many diets. Here’s a handful of health benefits you might experience once you incorporate arugula into your diet:

  • Great source of fiber. Arugula is a nutrient-rich leafy green that’s also high in fiber, which is extremely important in digestive health. Fiber helps you normalize your bowel movement, lowers cholesterol levels, and keeps your hunger and blood sugar in check, among other things.
  • Reduced cancer risk. According to a 2015 study, the compound sulforaphane, which is abundant in arugula and other cruciferous vegetables, can suppress enzymes involved in the development of cancer.
  • Support for heart health. A study conducted in 2017 shows that eating cruciferous vegetables like arugula lowers your chance of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Improved bone health. Arugula, like other greens, is a fantastic source of calcium and vitamin K, both of which are essential for preventing osteoporosis and maintaining healthy bones.

Arugula Recipes

Arugula can be eaten raw in sandwiches and salads. You can also use it to prepare a wide array of tasty dishes, from soups and pizzas to pesto and other entrees. Do you want to get creative and healthy in your kitchen? Check out our favorite arugula recipes:

Arugula Salad

Are you looking for an easy way to increase your vegetable intake? Make a quick arugula salad. You can use a few ingredients and make the most of it – grab a bunch of arugula’s perky leaves, grate some parmesan cheese, squeeze in the lemon juice and drizzle your salad with some olive oil.

If culinary minimalism is not the way you want to go, then the sky’s the limit – add some grapes and nutty almonds, or salmon and dried cranberries. You can also experiment with cheese – try adding some mozzarella, Brie, or Camembert. Arugula goes well with so many ingredients that it’s almost like you can never make the same salad twice!

Arugula Pesto

Everyone knows basil pesto. Why not try something new and use arugula to replace basil? The whole process will be very quick, too – you can make your arugula pesto in 5 to 10 minutes. You’ll need 2 cups of stemmed, washed, and dried arugula, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of shelled walnuts, and some salt and parmesan to taste. Grind the mixture until it achieves your desired texture. You can also add other herbs, like mint or oregano, to pump up that flavor.

Arugula pesto

Arugula Pizza

Some people (they exist for real!) say pizza is too bland for their liking. We bet they haven’t tried pizza with arugula, a surefire way to pack a punch! The fresh, peppery notes of baby arugula leaves used as a topping contrast with the rich, creamy cheese below. Add cherry tomatoes and prosciutto, and sprinkle it with garlic or olive oil. That’s a bold mix of flavors you’ll never forget!

Final Thoughts

Arugula is a healthy and delicious cruciferous vegetable that can be a star of any salad you want to make or pack a flavorful punch in your main and side dishes. Just like other leafy greens, it offers various health benefits, making it a great addition to a healthy diet. Better yet, it can be used in so many recipes that your cooking will never have a boring note to it!

If you want to eat healthily and introduce more tasty dishes to your diet, Kitchen Community is here for you! Check out our guides and recipes and make your life taste better.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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