Using leafy vegetables as part of your cooking is a good plan for many reasons. First, when you pick the right ones for the right dish, they can add tremendous texture and flavor, and will help you build the overall profile of your meal. Also, leafy greens are well-known for their health benefits, as they tend to include abundant amounts of the things we need most, including various vitamins and minerals.
Arugula is a commonly used leafy vegetable that can be found in many different types of cuisine. If you are preparing a dish that calls for arugula, you are in for a treat – both for its taste and its nutritional value. But what if you find that you don’t actually have any on hand? Or maybe you just don’t like the taste of arugula specifically, but want something similar to use instead? Arugula is loved by many, but there are plenty of alternatives you can turn to as a substitute in a pinch.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the best substitutes for arugula, what it is, and the benefits of arugula. Let’s get started!
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What is Arugula?
Before we dive into our list of arugula alternatives, we’d like to provide a more formal introduction to this vegetable. The scientific name for arugula is Eruca vesicaria, which makes it sound far less tasty than it actually is. In addition to that scientific name, arugula also goes by a variety of other casual names in different places around the world, including rocket, rucola, ruchetta, and more.
Arugula is native to the Mediterranean region, although it is now grown commercially in many locations around the globe. Thanks to its growing popularity in recent years, it should be relatively easy to find arugula in a well-stocked grocery store. You may encounter times during the year when it is a little harder to find than at other times, but generally speaking this is a vegetable that will be readily available for you to purchase.
9 Best Substitutes for Arugula
If you find yourself without time to run to the store to pick up arugula for your dish, or if you are standing in the produce department and there is no arugula to be found, this section is for you. We have outlined nine substitute options below that you may want to consider for your upcoming meal. While these substitutes might not deliver exactly what you would get from the real thing, they should still help you put together an enjoyable dish. Let’s get started!
This is going to be the leading contender as a substitute for arugula. It’s the peppery flavor that watercress delivers that is going to match it up so nicely in recipes that typically call for arugula. In addition to a nice match in terms of flavor profile, watercress also delivers nutritionally, so you’ll be able to maintain many of the same health benefits when you make this switch. If your grocery store is missing arugula but has watercress available, give it a try and you might be impressed by what you find.
Speaking of your grocery store, one of the tricky things about turning to watercress as an arugula substitute is that you might not be able to find it everywhere. It’s popular enough to show up in plenty of stores, but there’s no guarantee that it will be available when you need it. So, if you aren’t able to find watercress, you may need to work your way down this list to find other possibilities that will be easier to locate.
This is another great substitute for arugula. Again, it comes down to the flavor profile being a relatively good match with what you’ll be missing when you don’t use arugula. It’s the peppery note that you’ll be able to replace, and along with that will come some bitterness. As with most greens, you can turn down the bitterness by cooking radicchio, if you so choose.
The shortcoming of this substitution is what you’ll be missing in terms of texture. It’s not going to line up exactly with what you’ll get from arugula, as radicchio is a heartier leaf. This doesn’t mean that you can’t wind up with an excellent finished product, but it’s important to understand that the feel of your dish will be a little different. To combat that issue, consider cutting your radicchio into particularly small pieces to minimize the toughness that it can bring to the plate.
For an option that is going to be easy to find in nearly every grocery store, opt for spinach. As one of the most popular leafy vegetables, spinach tends to be very easy to find and relatively inexpensive to purchase. Of course, spinach is already a popular component in many salads, so you might not so much be substituting spinach for arugula, but instead just using more spinach to make up for the absence of arugula.
Spinach leaves are easy to chew, and while not as delicate as arugula, they still make for a pleasant substitute for arugula. You don’t get the same forward flavor profile from spinach, however, as they aren’t going to come with that spicy note that is closely associated with arugula.
With this option, we are going in a bit of a different direction. If you are thinking that kale isn’t actually that much like arugula – you are right. But that could be okay. Sometimes, making a substitution isn’t about trying to match up as precisely as possible with the original ingredient. Instead, you can choose to just go another way and create something that is tasty and nutritious in its own right.
On the nutrition front, you already know that kale delivers – its nutrient profile is well-documented, and it has become very popular for that reason as a substitute for arugula. There isn’t a match here in terms of flavor, but if you want to pick out a leafy vegetable that you can keep on hand to bring in when your arugula runs out, you’ll do just fine with kale.
We already featured spinach in our list, but baby spinach is sold as a separate product in many grocery stores, and it may work well as you search for a substitute for arugula. In fact, because the leaves are younger, you might find that baby spinach works even better than regular spinach to mimic arugula, as you’ll get a more tender bite than what is provided from the more mature plant.
The drawback of this option not bringing the same strong arugula flavor is still an issue, but for some people, that will actually be seen as a plus. If you are working on a recipe that you like everything about except for the flavor that arugula delivers, test out baby spinach to see if it is a better match for your tastes and preferences. You can also find baby spinach in salad green mixes.
If you don’t mind a bit of bitter flavor in your dishes, but you don’t want to go as far as something like radicchio on the bitter scale, escarole may fit the bill nicely as an arugula alternative. This is yet another leafy green option that isn’t necessarily going to be a straight across substitution for arugula, but could leave you with a tasty, satisfying dish, nonetheless.
This is a particularly appealing option if the destination for your greens is a soup. Adding greens to a soup is a great way to add both flavor and nutritional value, but not all greens work well in this application. Escarole is popular for this purpose because of the way it handles a wet environment – many people are happy with the texture that it delivers.
That’s right – dandelions. If you weren’t aware, the leaves of a plant that most people consider to be a weed are actually quite tasty in the right application. They can serve as a suitable fill-in for arugula, so be sure to check out your local grocery store to see if they are available.
Depending on your personal tastes, and what time of year it is, you might find that the dandelion greens are too bitter for your liking when used raw. If that is the case, cooking them can pull back on that bitterness so you are able to better enjoy the flavor. And as is the case with most of the substitution ideas on our list, there is a lot to like about the health benefits of cooking with dandelion greens, as well.
Even if you haven’t cooked with this option before, it’s easy to spot in your local grocery store as you stroll through the produce section. Frisee has an extremely curly leaf that tends to stand out from the rest of the greens that are on display. You’ll get plenty of vitamins when opting for this replacement for arugula, and even some of the pepperiness that you might be searching for.
If you are going to opt for frisee in your dish, keep in mind the crunchy texture that the leaves usually deliver. All of those curls lead to a feel that is particularly crunchy and fresh – that’s usually a great thing, but it might not always be right for the dish you are trying to create. Also, as has been the case with some of our other options, there can be a bit too much bitterness for some people in frisee. Rather than trying to cook it to bring down that bitter taste, you might be better off adding some other tasty components to your dish to balance everything out. For example, a creamy dressing would be one useful way to make the bitter element more palatable.
This last idea on our list might not have the same name recognition as many of our other choices, but it does have one big benefit – it matches up nicely with the taste that you are trying to replace. Purslane delivers a flavor that is similar overall to what you’ll get with arugula, so if a taste match is what you’re going for, consider looking for this item in your local produce section.
It’s the texture and mouthfeel of this option that is going to be a stumbling block for some but it can still work as a substitute for arugula. You aren’t going to get the same overall feel in your dish when you make this substitution, and that may or may not be a problem, depending on your needs and tastes.
Benefits of Arugula
For many cooks, the primary motivation for using arugula in dishes is the taste. Where some leafy greens fall flat and don’t offer much flavor at all, that is not the case with this one. When you use arugula, you will enjoy a surprisingly spicy, peppery flavor that is not commonly found in greens. If you are looking to pick up the flavor profile of a salad or another dish while using natural, healthy ingredients, arugula is a great place to turn.
Beyond its appealing taste, the health benefits of arugula are a big selling point. Eating arugula offers up many valuable vitamins, like Vitamins A, K, and C. Potassium and calcium are also present in this vegetable, giving it a great overall profile in terms of what it delivers with each bite. As an added bonus, arugula may also be able to lower cancer risk, help to prevent osteoporosis, and bring down the risk of diabetes. With so much to like from both a taste and health perspective, but it’s to see why arugula has become so popular.
As you make your way through the local grocery store to consider which greens you should bring home, pay close attention to the price tags. Some leafy greens can actually get quite expensive on a per-pound basis, making it harder to eat healthy than you might like. Fortunately, turning to arugula can help you get over this barrier. Depending on where you shop, and whether or not you buy organic, arugula can be added to your basket for a relatively modest price. It’s not always easy to add quality ingredients to your meals without breaking the bank, so don’t overlook the value that arugula can deliver.
Finally, we can discuss the way baby rugula brings so much diversity to your kitchen when trying to come up with different meal ideas. Having arugula on hand is a wise move if you are serious about trying new dishes and exploring your culinary boundaries. Where other leafy greens may only be suited to one or two types of cooking, arugula can do it all. Whether you are making a fresh bowl of pasta, a delicious soup, or even a sandwich, you can find a use for the arugula you have stocked up in your fridge.
Final Thoughts on the Best Arugula Substitutes
One of the most important attributes for a cook to possess – whether it is a professional chef or a home cook – is the ability to adapt. You’d like to always find recipe ingredients in abundance when you need them, but that isn’t always going to work out. Knowing what backup options can work for your recipes, and knowing how to use them, will lead to more successful meals time after time.
You certainly don’t need to test out all nine of these substitute possibilities or keep all of them on hand in your kitchen. Rather, you should get familiar with one or two that you like and will be easy to use in the kinds of foods you tend to prepare. Then, when the situation arises where arugula is not available, you can turn to a trusty substitute and not look back.