Arugula is an annual vegetable grown as a salad green, used in a variety of different dishes like pizza, soups, salads, or sandwiches.
This leafy green has a bitter and distinctive pepper taste, and this is one of the reasons arugula is so popular. But not everyone loves its particular taste, and you might want to find a good arugula substitute.
The best substitutes for arugula
Arugula is an edible plant of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferous family. This classification includes the majority of cruciferous vegetables like kale, cauliflower, and broccoli.
This plant originated in the Mediterranean region and it’s also known as rucola or Italian cress. Arugula has been grown as an edible vegetable since Roman times, it has been a favorite leaf vegetable for a long time.
Arugula was traditionally collected in the wild or at home gardens, along with herbs like rosemary and parsley. It is usually available for purchase in most supermarkets and farmer’s markets globally.
It’s mostly used as a leafy vegetable, and it’s very appreciated for its fresh, bitter, and peppery flavor. Arugula is available year-round. The leaves are usually of a vibrant, deep green color, with pointy ends or rounder ones depending on the plant. The leaves are harvested when the plant is still young and mild in flavor, or when the plant is completely mature.
Arugula is very popular not only for its many usages in the kitchen but also for its health benefits. The leaves are high in nutrients, fibers, and phytochemicals. Arugula is low in calories and fat, has little to none sugar and carbohydrates. Among the numerous nutrients of arugula, there are calcium, potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin A.
Arugula can be eaten raw, in salads, or as a delicious pizza topping, to best enjoy its particular taste. It can be used as an alternative to making pesto or other sauces. When cooked, arugula loses a bit of its peppery taste and becomes milder in taste.
Watercress (the botanical name is Nasturtium officinale) is a perennial aquatic plant native to Europe and Asia and has a similar peppery taste, so it’s a really good substitute for arugula.
It is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables eaten by humans and it belongs to the same family as arugula (Brassicaceae). It’s composed of hollow stems that float and can produce small white flowers.
Watercress is made of mostly water (95%) and has a really low content of fat and carbohydrates. It contains high amounts of vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin K), calcium, and more minerals.
This leaf can be used in a variety of different recipes, from salads to soups, and it makes a perfect arugula alternative because of its similar taste. Both of these plants have a bitter, spicy, and peppery taste.
Radicchio is a perennial plant that comes from the chicory family, it’s grown as a leaf vegetable and has many different uses in cooking. It has a bitter and spicy taste, which can become milder when cooked or grilled. Radicchio is rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients; low in calories, sodium, and fat.
There are three main varieties of radicchio, named after the regions in Italy where they come from. The most widely available is radicchio di Chioggia, which can be found globally. This variety presents big, round and red leaves.
A second type is radicchio rosso di Treviso, with elongated, deep purple leaves. The end of the leaves are blanched and the white veins are more pronounced. This second variety has a milder flavor
A third type is radicchio tardivo, considered one of the best in Italy, with long, burgundy leaves. Radicchio tardivo is crunchy and has a stronger bitter taste, for this reason, is usually eaten cooked and not raw.
Its particular taste makes it a perfect arugula alternative, amazing when eaten grilled with olive oil or used in dishes like risotto.
Another good option when looking for substitutes for arugula is purslane, a leafy vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. It can be found virtually everywhere, in a wild range of environments.
Purslane is a succulent plant that contains about 93% water, with red stems and green leaves. It has the same bitter and peppery taste as arugula and is loaded with nutrients like vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C), magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium.
Although the taste is similar to arugula, keep in mind that the texture is very different: purslane, being a succulent plant, has a completely different consistency. If you don’t mind the difference in texture, purslane can be a really good arugula substitution in salads and cooked dishes.
Escarole is another member of the chicory family, like radicchio, with broad leaves and a slightly bitter taste. Its taste can be a little bit milder than arugula, but it still has a peppery hint and can work as a good substitute for arugula.
The color and the texture of escarole leaves vary depending on their position: the outside leaves have a darker green color and can feel a little bit tougher, the leaves on the intern have a pale green color and feel more tender to the touch.
Escarole has a low amount of fat and is high in minerals and nutrients (fibers, iron, vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C.)
Its milder taste makes it a perfect arugula substitution for salads if you’re looking for something less bitter, but escarole is also perfect in soups and stews.
Spinach is a leafy annual plant that belongs to the amaranth family and that is widely cultivated and used in a lot of different dishes. The leaves are larger at the base of the plant and smaller higher on the stem and it can grow yellow-green flowers.
Spinach is composed of 91% water, is low in fat, and has a high nutritional value. It’s high in vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin E), magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Spinach is generally very easy to find and less expensive than other leafy plants like arugula or radicchio. The taste is somehow milder than arugula taste, depending also on the age of the leaves. Younger leaves have a much milder taste, older leaves are slightly more bitter but still not as much as arugula.
If you’re looking for a substitute for arugula because you don’t enjoy its bitter, peppery taste, spinach can be a lovely alternative. Spinach is a good arugula substitution if you want to choose something similar to baby arugula, with a milder taste.
6. Dandelion greens
Dandelion greens are the leaves of the plant which produces the homonymous yellow flower. They’re available year-round and are very easy to find.
Dandelion greens have a very assertive flavor, bitter and almost tangy, making it a really good alternative to the arugula leaf. The younger leaves are tender and have a milder flavor, while larger and older leaves are almost too bitter to be eaten.
They have a high nutritional value, rich in vitamins (vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A), omega-3, and proteins. They’re also a natural diuretic and can help improve digestion.
Dandelion greens can be a nice arugula alternative in both raw and cooked dishes.
Frisée is another leafy green that belongs to the chicory family, with pale green leaves and a white center. The leaves are bitter and have a tender texture, the center is crunchier and a little bit milder in taste.
Frisée, also known as curly endive, has a high content of vitamins (vitamin C, vitamin E), potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It contains a high number of antioxidants and it’s low in fat and calories.
It has a bitter taste, even if slightly less than arugula, and works really well as an arugula substitute, especially when used for salads and soups.
Mâche is a weedy plant that belongs to the Caprifoliaceae family, native to Europe but widely known in the rest of the world. It’s used as a salad green and has a tangy and bitter taste.
Mâche has long leaves, with a bright green color, thin and smooth in texture. The ends of the leaves are round and mâche lettuce is soft and crisp. It has many nutrients like vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, and potassium.
It can be a perfectly good substitute for arugula for those recipes that call for raw use: mâche lettuce is tender and can be ruined when cooked.
How to choose an arugula substitute
The best way to choose an arugula substitute is to take into consideration how much you like the particular bitter taste.
If you can’t find arugula and you want to recreate the same kind of taste, you can choose watercress (probably the best substitute), radicchio, purslane, or mâche.
If you’re looking to substitute arugula with something different because you don’t particularly enjoy the bitter and peppery taste, you can choose baby spinach or frisée.