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arugula leaves

13 Substitutes for Arugula: a World of Leafy Greens

What can you use as substitutes for arugula? Whether it’s the taste of arugula that isn’t exactly to your liking or you just can’t easily find it where you live, I’m here to present you with the plants you can use instead.

To put it simply, the best substitutes for arugula are whatever leafy greens that you can find where you live.

Nowadays, most of us can buy arugula for a relatively decent price all-year round. However, not everyone will love this dark leafy green.

If arugula is not to your liking due to its peppery flavor, just use baby spinach or lettuce. I would say that lettuce and baby spinach are two of the most neutral-testing/sweet substitutes for arugula. These three and other leafy greens also work as bean sprout substitutes in sandwiches.

Leafy greens are also amazing ingredients for juicing and you can discover more in my recommendations for the best juicer for cabbage.

Main Substitutes for Arugula

  • lettuce – easy to find around the globe, loved by basically everyone, and a decently versatile leafy green
  • baby spinach – one of the most versatile leafy greens, it can be used in all the recipes that call for arugula with basically no exceptions, the taste is mild and loved by many
  • watercress – probably harder to find than arugula but with a similar taste, just a very different appearance, can be used interchangeably by those who want that peppery, refreshing flavor in their dishes
  • kale – a popular dark leafy green with a sweet flavor but it can be a bit more expensive in some places
  • mizuna – the Japanese mustard greens, mildly sweet and spicy, quite similar in flavor to arugula
  • mustard greens – not at my top of the list of favorites but it’s a leafy green that belongs to the same family as arugula
  • dandelion greens – more bitter than arugula, similar to chicory, similar to radicchio or endives
  • radicchio – a slightly unique arugula substitute with a bittersweet flavor that not many people can learn to love, it’s not as easy to find around the globe
  • collard greens – can be used raw but they’re better enjoyed cooked, similar to kale in terms of texture and taste
  • nasturtium leaves – an arugula substitute that not many people have heard of or will have access to, it’s also known as the Indian cress so they share the peppery flavor
  • basil – if you don’t want to make an arugula pesto or don’t want to use it as topping on pizza, just use basil leaves instead
  • bagged salads – a very easy to use arugula substitute, you just drop the mix of leafy greens into a bowl, add your dressing and you have your salad
  • frisée – it looks like a salad but it’s not exactly a salad, it’s more closely related to chicory and endive so you know that you should expect some bitterness

What Arugula Tastes Like

It has a peppery, spicy, and slightly tart flavor. It’s not bitter, it’s just bold, peppery, and mustardy.

It’s awesome in salads, on charcuterie boards, in sandwiches instead of lettuce, in smoothies, pasta, with beans and grains, stir-fries, and in stews.

If you want to discover how to use it in more dishes, you will find it in cookbooks about greens.

I came to love arugula when I was eating it with prosciutto, San Marzano tomatoes, and mozzarella.

I then confirmed just how delicious it really is when I ate it with beef bresaola and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

You could even use prosciutto and fresh arugula as toppings for pizza. Just add them once the pizza is baked and out of the oven. For those who prefer spicy foods, also add a few chili flakes and you won’t taste anything more delicious.

So, before totally giving it up on it, if you’re a carnivore like myself, you could give it another try in those combinations.

If you feel like you need more motivation for eating this green, you should know that it was mentioned by the poet Virgil in his poem Moretum in this line: “and the rocket, which revives drowsy Venus”.

Other names for arugula are rocket/rocket salad (the UK, New Zealand, Australia) and rucola (Italy).

Arugula it’s a popular salad green but it’s not a lettuce. It is closely related to mustard, a member of the cruciferous vegetable family. If you taste it, you’ll definitely notice its relation to mustard.

Pretty much everyone considers it a dark leafy green, alongside kale, collard greens, chard, watercress, and spinach, which I’ve also mentioned as being some of the best substitutes for arugula, alongside a few others.

13 Best Substitutes for Arugula

substitutes for arugula
Some of the most popular substitutes are: baby spinach, lettuce, collard greens, dandelion greens, mizuna, mustard greens, watercress, kale, basil.

Let’s group how these substitutes would actually work based on what food you’re preparing:

  • Smoothies: baby spinach, watercress, kale, collard greens, nasturtium leaves
  • Salads: lettuce, baby spinach, watercress, collard greens, kale, dandelion greens, mizuna, mustard greens, salad bags, radicchio, frisée, nasturtium leaves
  • Sandwiches: lettuce, baby spinach, watercress, frisée, kale, dandelion greens, collard greens, mizuna, radicchio, nasturtium leaves
  • Pasta: baby spinach, kale, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, nasturtium leaves
  • Soups: baby spinach, watercress, collard greens, kale, mizuna, mustard greens, dandelion greens, nasturtium leaves
  • Pizza topping: baby spinach, kale, basil, watercress, nasturtium leaves
  • Pesto: basil, baby spinach, watercress, nasturtium leaves

All the wonderful and varied substitutes for arugula can be used in a 1:1 substitution. However, when it comes to leafy greens you can adjust quantities to match your tastes. You don’t have to follow a recipe to a T.

1. Lettuce

If you come across a sandwich that includes arugula as an ingredient, you can simply replace it with whatever lettuce you prefer.

Most of us grew up with lettuce in sandwiches. For some, it’s more delicious if they continue to make their sandwiches with lettuce even when the recipe states otherwise.

2. Baby spinach

There is actually a spinach variety that looks like arugula. It’s called Red Snapper. I love the way those leaves look. However, it’s pretty hard to find. You’d have more luck if you were to grow it at home than if you went looking for it at the supermarket.

In general, baby spinach works as a perfect substitute for arugula, whether we’re talking about smoothies, salads, sandwiches, soups or toppings for pizza.

These two leafy greens don’t have much in common when it comes to taste. It’s just that baby spinach has a more neutral taste.

It’s a great replacement for those who enjoy milder flavors and not the bold flavor that rocket brings to the table.

Baby spinach is definitely a favorite and winner among all these substitutes for arugula. Plus, it’s easy to find anywhere and not that expensive.

3. Watercress

Firstly, don’t you just love the way those small leaves of watercress look? I love shopping for watercress because it’s so pretty and it’s sold in bouquet-like bundles.

It works as an awesome substitute for arugula because watercress has a similar taste.

It can also be used instead of lettuce in salads. You can use watercress in pretty much the same way that you would use arugula, that’s why it’s just a perfect replacement.

Peppery is the best word to describe the flavor of watercress. It’s a member of the mustard family so that’s perfectly understandable.

If what you want is to preserve that arugula taste in a recipe or smoothie, you should be using watercress.

4. Collard greens

Southern cooking is what comes to mind when we think of collard greens.

However, this time I want to introduce them to you as a substitute.

You can use collard greens instead of arugula whether we’re talking about green juices, smoothies, stews or stir-fry.

If you’re making a stir-fry, I recommend rolling up the leaves and slicing them very thinly. Stir-fry the ribbons but let them retain some of that crispness.

Collard greens have a mild and sweet flavor. As I’ve said, they can serve as an awesome substitute in places where you can easily buy them.

You can also use collard greens with beans, grains, and pasta.

5. Dandelion greens

I’m pretty sure this is not going to be a favorite substitute for many. Those who prefer mild or sweet flavors, are better off using baby spinach and collard greens as more appropriate substitutes for arugula.

Those of you who enjoy bold flavors, stick around and read about dandelion greens.

I know that some of us think of them as a weed but there are actually cultivated varieties, too.

The taste can be described as sharp, while others will describe the taste as downright bitter.

The small, young leaves can be eaten raw. The larger leaves will have to be blanched to remove some of the bitterness.

Usually, dandelion greens are used in smaller quantities in salads, in combination with other milder greens.

6. Kale

We can’t enumerate dark leafy greens without talking about one of the most famous of them all. At one point, I felt like I only came across blog posts and articles about all the ways kale is good for us and what we can do with it.

I like it and I use it often because nowadays it’s so easy to find all throughout the year. But I won’t say that I get what all the devotion is all about. Well, at least, maybe more people are eating more leafy greens thanks to this celebrity.

It’s as versatile as spinach so it can make its appearance in everything: smoothies, salads, stir-fry, soups, pasta, beans, etc.

It has a sweet flavor and you quickly get used to it and learn to love it. It is one of the best substitutes for arugula if you’re looking for a sweeter taste.

7. Mizuna

Let me tell you about a member of the mustard family that resembles young arugula in flavor and appearance.

What better substitute than that, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that common yet. It’s not as easy to find in many places around the globe. It originated in Japan, where it’s very popular.

Mizuna is small, with deep green, sawtooth leaves.

It’s mildly sweet and spicy. It works perfectly in salads, soups, or stir-fries.

You might have eaten mizuna without even knowing. It can be found in bags of salad mixes.

8. Mustard greens

These greens also have a very intense peppery flavor. They’re frequently used in Asian cooking.

Some will describe their flavor as being similar to horseradish, you should be prepared for quite the intense taste.

The intense aroma will tone down once they’re lightly cooked.

You can use mustard greens in soups, stews, salads, with beans, grains, pasta.

Whatever you do, don’t use mustard greens in smoothies. Use kale, baby spinach or kale because they’re a lot more delicious in smoothies and they will pair well with a variety of fruits.

9. Basil

There is such a thing as arugula pesto, which some might find a bit bitter.

If you prefer the classic recipe, just stick to basil pesto.

Or you could try making a baby spinach one.

If you’re looking for other herbs that could replace arugula in various recipes, you can use parsley or cilantro. If you think that cilantro tastes like soap, stick to parsley.

10. Nasturtium leaves

This plant is fascinating. We can use the leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds.

The flowers are gorgeous. If you want to make a spectacular plating, using these edible nasturtium flowers will create a wonderful impact.

It’s known as known as Indian cress. That means that it shares that sweet and peppery flavor that both arugula and watercress have.

It can replace arugula in a lot of recipes but it’s not easy to find. You’ll probably have to grow your own plant if you want to see how it tastes and how those flowers will look on a desert or on a savory dish.

11. Radicchio

Make a grilled radicchio recipe if you want to know exactly if you would enjoy these red chicories.

Radicchio is neither a lettuce nor cabbage. It is also called Italian chicory so you know that it will have a distinct, bitter flavor.

It’s certainly not of the best substitutes for arugula, it wouldn’t be the first choice for many. And it’s certainly not as versatile as baby spinach, watercress, kale or lettuce.

But it can be an enjoyable change in certain recipes.

12. Frisée

This is not a lettuce although, from the look of it, you might believe so. It can also be used in salads, just as arugula and lettuce and any other leafy greens.

It’s closely related to chicory and endive so the bitter flavor will be present in the leaves.

Frisée doesn’t have much in common with arugula so it won’t be a versatile substitute but it can be an interesting flavor.

The mildly bitter, peppery flavor and crunchy leaves can lend a nice texture and dimension to some dishes.

13. Bagged salads

For the times when we’re too lazy to make a salad from scratch, bagged salads can be a blessing.

I will absolutely admit that I love using bagged salads for a wide variety of salads because we get a variety of leafy greens in that small bag.

What I don’t exactly like is that bagged salads tend to be quite expensive, especially when it comes to those who offer a lot of leafy greens variety in their content.

When I can pick lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, watercress, mustard greens, etc. from my garden, then I use what I grow. The rest of the year, I enjoy using bagged salads quite often.

I would say that bagged salads are especially great when we’re cooking just for one or two.

Best Substitutes for arugula in smoothies

As I’ve already mentioned above, as a substitute for arugula in smoothie you can use:

  • baby spinach
  • watercress
  • kale
  • collard greens

All these can be replaced in the same quantity as the recipe calls for. Just don’t use mustard greens of any leafy greens that are bitter or have overpowering flavors to make your smoothies.

Overall, there are many substitutes for arugula to choose from, no matter your budget, preferences, the recipes you want to make or the place where you live.