Arugula is a dark leafy herb that is related to cabbage and kale and which is known for its bitterness and peppery bite. Arugula is excellent in both salads and cooked dishes. It is a staple in Italian cuisine where you will find it used as a pizza topping or sometimes paired with pasta. Some people like the flavor but many don’t, which is one reason that you may want a substitute. Another is that in addition to its controversial taste, you may not always be able to find it in the grocery store. If you find yourself needing a substitute, consider one of the following options.
Your best bet: Watercress
Like arugula, watercress belongs to the Brassicaceae family and offers the same slightly bitter and spicy flavor profile that you get from arugula. That flavor is the main reason that watercress makes such a good substitute. One of the common names for arugula is actually Italian cress due to the two herbs’ similarities.
Another reason that watercress works as an arugula alternative is that the two herbs are close enough in appearance to be virtually indistinguishable in a salad. From a nutritional standpoint, arugula dominates in almost every category but watercress is not far behind and contains relatively high levels of certain some of the same nutrients contained in arugula.
Like arugula, you can use watercress raw or cooked; however, you will want to be careful when cooking it. It is a delicate herb that gets mushy quickly, unlike arugula. One good way to cook watercress is to blend it and use it in soup.
A decent second choice: Purslane
Purslane is another good option for an arugula substitute. It works primarily because of its flavor which has a mustard-like bite similar to that of arugula. Although its succulent leaves make for a different texture when compared to arugula, it works well in most arugula dishes.
While it can stand in for arugula in salads and works well in some cooked dishes, neither of those are the best reason to use it. The best reason is that purslane has some significant nutritional benefits. These benefits include the fact that it is high in omega 3s. In addition to the fatty acids, purslane also provides nutrients like vitamins A and C as well as the mineral magnesium.
In a pinch: Spinach
Spinach has most of the same nutrients that you get from arugula and higher levels of the most important ones. In addition to its greater nutrient density, spinach is generally easier to find and often less expensive when compared to arugula. Like arugula, you can serve spinach cooked or raw.
It also has a much milder taste when compared to arugula’s bitterness and spiciness. Older leaves are slightly more bitter, but they will still not be as bitter as arugula leaves. That mildness might be a drawback for those who want a closer match to arugula and a benefit for those who don’t. Spinach leaves are broader and oval shaped, giving them a much different appearance to the lobed leaves of the arugula plant.
Dandelion is a decent replacement for arugula in both raw and cooked applications. While it does not have arugula’s characteristic peppery flavor, it does have a similar bitterness and pairs well with many of the same ingredients that you commonly find in arugula dishes.
Radicchio looks nothing like arugula but it does belong to the same family and will provide a close match for flavor despite changing the appearance of the dish. A head of radicchio looks more like a burgundy and white cabbage, but this vegetable is really a variety of chicory.