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Arugula Substitute Ideas


In this article, you will find the best arugula substitute for any recipe, in case you can’t find these greens at the store. Arugula is the perfect addition to summery salads, elevated sandwiches, and a pop of green in pasta dishes. This peppery salad green adds flavor to any recipe and it is incredibly delicious.

white bowl filled with bright leafy greens

What Is Arugula?

Arugula is a leafy green that goes by many names, some of which include eruca, roquette, arugula, rucola, rocket, rugula. While you can eat all parts of arugula, it is most common to consume the leaves. This cruciferous vegetable is part of the mustard family and, as such, provides similar flavor notes like some bitterness and a sharp taste.

This green has a thicker leaf that is crisp but easier to eat than raw kale. Baby arugula is young arugula that was picked at a young stage of growing. This delicious plant is very delicate and mild-tasting compared to mature arugula.

Arugula has a long history dating back to 1 AD. Ancient Romans and Egyptians used this vegetable for medicinal purposes. It was readily available as a wild plant before shifting to Europe and around the world. Now, you’ll find this vegetable in many Italian recipes.

Many recipes call for arugula ranging from a soup or stew garnish to a pizza topping, pesto ingredient, and part of a stir-fry.

Types of Arugula

Many varieties of arugula are available, with four main types rising to the top. Arugula Coltivata, Arugula Ortolani, Arugula Selvatica, and Olive Leaf arugula are the four common types. While the flavor is similar between these varieties, the leaf shape, size, and time to grow each variety change.

You can use each of the above types of arugula in recipes – both cooked and raw. They are also reasonably easy to grow in an at-home garden if you choose to try growing your own arugula.

Arugula Substitute List

1. Frisée

You’ve likely seen frisée at the grocery store – it has an appearance similar to a head of lettuce, with smaller, curly leaves. This vegetable is related to endives and is also known as curly endive. This option is a good arugula substitution as it provides a similar bitter taste.

However, it has a much bolder flavor, so it’s best used in conjunction with other greens when in a salad. Frisée is most often part of spring salad mixes. Use frisée as an arugula replacement in raw dishes or as a side for steak. You can also pan-fry or lightly cook this vegetable, though it has the most intense flavor when raw.

Frisée is recognizable by its unique color, a combination of darker green on the exterior and yellow in the middle. This coloring is created through a process in which the top of the leaves is tied together. This process allows for the center to not be exposed to the sun.

Pros
This swap is a tasty alternative to use in salads. It also provides a similar bitter and peppery flavor to recipes.

Cons
You’ll find this leafy vegetable to be strong-tasting, which may be a turn-off for some who don’t enjoy the flavor. The recipes in which you can use frisée as a swap are limited to either a raw dish or lightly cooked/wilted recipe.

Cooking Tip:
Use ½ the amount required in your recipes and add more if you highly enjoy the flavor.

2. Baby Spinach

You can use baby spinach when searching for arugula alternatives, though it does bear some differences. It has a mild and fresh flavor that meshes well with most dishes. You can use baby spinach when searching for a cooked arugula substitute. It works great in cooked recipes and raw dishes like salads, allowing the recipe options to be wider than frisée.

For the closest taste, cook baby spinach. Using cooked spinach provides a slightly bitter taste, like arugula offers. Spinach is known for wilting when cooked; consider adding more spinach into these recipes to account for the shrinking vegetable.

Baby spinach and spinach are the same plants; the difference is that baby spinach is harvested early. This leafy vegetable originates from Asia. While there is some debate, Persia is considered the birthplace of spinach, with a common nickname being “Persian green.” Surprisingly, spinach was not popular when it first reached the US. Though, after the famous character Popeye was introduced, the popularity of spinach rose.

Pros
This vegetable is mild in flavor, so it can work for most recipes that call for arugula. Use baby spinach as a garnish in sandwiches and with cooked recipes. Baby spinach is easy to find in grocery stores in fresh, canned, or frozen formats.

Cons
There is no peppery taste or bold flavor with spinach. You may need to add additional seasoning like fresh black pepper to liven up the taste.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio for raw recipes and double the amount for cooked recipes (especially if you enjoy the taste of spinach).

3. Endive

Endives have a long, oval-like shape like romaine lettuce with a smoother, more petite exterior and yellow color. This substitute for arugula provides a bitter taste when you eat it raw and a nutty flavor when you use it in cooked dishes.

This vegetable has a thicker leaf consistency, allowing for it to work exceptionally well when cooked. You’ll also notice a milder taste as endives cook.

Many note the discovery of endive as a happy mistake. In the early 1800s, a farmer was drying his chicory root when called away to war. Upon arriving back home, endive leaves had grown from the chicory. After tasting the endive and enjoying the flavor, the vegetable quickly became popular.

Pros
Endives work well for both fresh uncooked recipes and cooked recipes. They can be used for most dishes that call for arugula and offer a similar nutty or bitter taste—use endives in salads (with other greens), soups, and as a cooked veggie dish.

Cons
As endives lack the peppery taste, it will not work well in all arugula dishes. There will also be a difference in the flavor profile of recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ½ the amount required for raw recipes and a 1:1 ratio for cooked recipes.

4. Mixed Greens

Using mixed greens as arugula replacement is an excellent option, though only for raw recipes. If you’re looking for a way to add more fullness to your salads or as a sandwich topper, mixed greens work well. Some variations also include arugula, so you’ll have a hint of the bitter, peppery taste associated with arugula.

Depending on the mixed greens you purchase, you can expect a combination of leafy vegetables like frisée, baby spinach, kale, romaine, and swiss chard. You can cook some mixed greens, though it varies based on which greens are in the mixture.

Pros
Mixed greens are easy to find in the grocery store refrigerated vegetable section. You’ll likely find a similar taste as arugula is often an ingredient. This mixture works well in salads, though you can cook some varieties as well.

Cons
Each time you purchase mixed greens, there may be a different combination of leafy vegetables in the container. This varying mixture can make using this replacement in recipes tricky as the flavor will vary each time. Not all mixtures contain arugula, so you may find the flavor lacks a bitter, peppery taste.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio when swapping arugula with mixed greens
.

5. Romaine Lettuce

If you seek a swap that works well for fresh recipes, romaine lettuce makes an easy arugula substitution. This lettuce is very easily found at local grocery stores and provides a slightly bitter taste. You can use romaine as a salad filler and in sandwiches.

This green is even tasty cooked on the grill or pan-fried. Make sure not to overcook romaine, and you can use it in place of arugula in certain dishes. However, it will not stand up well in soups, stews, or other recipes it cooks for a long time.

Romaine lettuce has a long history that is believed to stretch back to the ancient Egyptians. It has been used as both a food item and as a medicinal tool for many years. In Syria, it was even used as a spoon for dips to create a less messy experience.

Pros
This lettuce is easily found at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. It offers a similar bitter flavor to dishes like arugula. You can use romaine for both cooked and raw recipes, though it is more common to use it in uncooked dishes.

Cons
You will not have a peppery flavor for recipes in which you use romaine lettuce. This swap also will not work with dishes that cook longer on the stove.

Cooking Tip:
Use romaine in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement for arugula.

6. Fresh Basil

While fresh basil is not a vegetable, you can still use it to replace arugula in recipes that need a hint of flavor. Plus, this herb adds a peppery taste to recipes. Use fresh basil in soups as a garnish or topper for dishes and add a hint of flavor to salads and pasta dishes.

It is not ideal to use basil if the recipe calls for large quantities of arugula. This swap works well in a pinch but does provide other flavors like licorice, mint, and sweetness, so it’s not a good substitution in all recipes.

Pros
Unlike most other arugula swaps, this option adds a peppery taste to recipes. It’s easily accessible and provides a complex taste to your recipes.

Cons
Basil is not a good swap for all recipes and should be used in smaller quantities due to its strong taste and differences in flavor.

Cooking Tip:
Start with a few basil leaves and adjust as needed to reach your flavor preference.

7. Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens are the leafy sections of the dandelion plant and are an excellent sub for arugula. They offer both a peppery taste and a bitterness that mimics that of arugula. The flavor is milder, so you may want to use a considerable amount depending on your taste preference and the recipe you are recreating.

These greens can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in stir-fries, soups, and stews. Because of their versatility and similar flavor profile, this is the best replacement for arugula.

This plant has been used for many years for a variety of reasons. One of the early uses included dye created from the flowers. Many people through the years have used dandelions for teas and wines, which continues in the present.

Pros
Dandelion greens have the most similar flavor to arugula offering a slightly bitter taste and pepper flavor. You can sub these greens for arugula in most recipes – both cooked and uncooked.

Cons
These greens are not available in all stores and may be challenging to find. You can pluck them from outdoors if you wish, though you will need to rinse them well.

Cooking Tip:
Use dandelion greens in a 1:1 ratio.

8. Watercress

Watercress greens have soft oval-shaped leaves. Young plants have a peppery flavor, compared to more mature greens that have a bitter taste. This option works as the closest substitution to arugula since it provides similar flavor notes. It works great in fresh salads or as garnish.

Pros

It provides similar peppery notes. When you are looking for the best substitutions for baby arugula, this is the best option.

Cons

It’s better to enjoy it fresh since it doesn’t hold well to heat. It’s perishable and more delicate compared to arugula.

Cooking Tip:

Use watercress substitute in a 1:1 ratio.

9. Escarole

Escarole is a bitter leafy green that is very popular in Italian cuisine. This substitute works as a substitute in fresh and cooked dishes.

Pros

Mild taste allows you to use it in more recipes: salads, stews, and soups.

Cons

Slightly bitter flavor and rough texture might not work for everyone. There will be missing peppery notes.

Cooking Tip:

Use escarole substitute in a 3/4:1 ratio.

10. Kale

If you are considering using kale as a substitute for arugula, choose young baby kale to avoid rough texture and bitter taste.

Pros

Kale substitute still offers varieties of nutrients and fresh flavor profiles. Works great in soups and salads.

Cons

The flavor profile is not going to match the arugula. Lack of peppery flavor, more hard texture to chew.

Cooking Tip:

Use kale in a 1:1 ratio. To soften massage the kale leaves when used in salads.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Parsley Instead of Arugula?

Yes and no. You can use parsley as a garnish on soups and top pasta, rice, and pizza for a similar peppery taste. However, parsley is an herb and not a vegetable, so you can not use it as a replacement for arugula in all recipes, especially those where arugula is the main ingredient.

Are Spinach and Arugula the Same?

No, spinach and arugula are not the same. While you can use these options as replacements for each other, they have differences from their appearance to leaf thickness and flavor.

Is Arugula in the Same Family as Lettuce?

No, arugula is not part of the same plant family as lettuce. While you can use arugula in many of the same recipes for lettuce, they are from different plant families. Arugula is part of the mustard family and provides a much bolder and complex taste than lettuce.

How Does Arugula Taste Like?

Arugula has a slightly bitter flavor with a strong peppery taste. You may also notice nuttiness when consuming arugula. People seem to either enjoy or dislike this leafy green.

Arugula vs Spinach

Spinach leaves are more round in shape compared to arugula. They are heavier, denser, and not as bright green in color. The flavor profile is different as well with arugula having more peppery notes and spinach having a more mild flavor.

What does arugula look like?

Arugula leaves have long spiky leaves. It’s deep green in color and soft to touch.

Conclusion

Next time you run out of arugula or can’t locate any at the store, give one of the above choices a try. Regardless of which type of recipe you’re looking to recreate, there is an excellent replacement that will incorporate well in your dish.

Try using watercress or dandelion greens first for their peppery flavor and similar arugula taste. If you can’t find these greens, baby spinach works well for most recipes.

Arugula recipes to try

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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