Arugula is a favorite leafy green in my household. I simply love to throw fresh arugula leaves in all sorts of salads and soups. Even if you’re not a fan of green veggies, you must have had arugula at some point in your life. After all, it’s such a common ingredient in salads and is also readily used on top of pizzas at restaurants and cafés.
With that said, I have come across so many people that keep confusing the fresh, peppery arugula with spinach because of their similar usage. So, I decided to write this article to clear all confusion about this leafy green once and for all.
Read on to find out, “what is arugula?”
What Is Arugula?
Arugula can be easily found in supermarkets all year-round, however, it is in peak season in early spring and fall. It’s super easy and quick to prepare and tastes delicious in a large variety of dishes. It has a signature peppery bite which makes it a perfect addition to spring salads.
Arugula, also identified as rucola, roquette, or garden rocket, is an edible plant. It belongs to the brassica plant family along with other vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens, and kale. It is originally from the Mediterranean and has been a staple in French and Italian cuisine for a long time now. In the US, arugula has gained popularity over the last few decades and is now readily used as salad greens.
What Does Arugula Taste Like?
Arugula has a spicy, peppery, and somewhat tart flavor. The tender leaves add a soft texture to the arugula taste. Because of its green freshness, it is added to salads. When cooked, arugula tastes mellower than when it is served raw. Moreover, it loses some of its spicy bite.
How to Use Arugula
Before using arugula, make sure to rinse the leaves and dry then with a salad spinner. You can use raw arugula in salads. The peppery flavor of the arugula pairs perfectly with strong flavors such as bright citrus and salty cheese. Arugula salad with Parmesan is my absolute favorite! You can also whirl fresh arugula leaves into pesto or use them as a pizza topping with fresh heirloom tomatoes or prosciutto. You can also sauté the greens to use them as a mild side dish with grilled chicken or add them to various pasta dishes, soups, and Sacchetti.
How to Pick Out Arugula
Here’s how you can pick out arugula:
- Monitor your arugula closely for around 5 weeks after planting it. Since arugula grows quickly, harvesting it at the right time results in the best flavor.
- Make sure to constantly measure the height of the leaves. Smaller arugula leaves that are about 3 inches tall have a mild flavor, while larger leaves have more of a spicy kick.
- When you are ready to pick out the arugula leaves, make sure that you don’t do so in full sun. Hot leaves wilt and perish very quickly. Similarly, don’t harvest the leaves in wet weather as this will lead to soggy greens. Choose the driest and coolest time of the day, preferably evening, around sunset, to pick the leaves.
- To pick arugula leaves, cut the outer leaves of the plant with sharp scissors just above the soil.
- Allow the plant to grow new leaves from the cut areas and then continue to cut more leaves as needed.
- Make sure to stop harvesting the smaller leaves if you notice a lack of flavor.
- When your plant reaches about 12 inches, pull it out at its roots. This is when the leaves are bursting with flavor. Make sure to harvest the plant before flowers form, otherwise, the leaves will be too bitter to eat.
How to Buy Arugula
When buying store-bought arugula, look for leaves that are fresh, green, and vibrant. Steer clear of leaves that are yellowing, wilting, and have a slimy appearance. When buying prepackaged arugula, make sure to check the bag for excess water as moisture can cause the leaves to rot swiftly.
How to Store Arugula and Keep It Fresh
The easiest way to store arugula is in the fridge. You need to store the leaves in a sealable plastic bag and use damp paper towels to provide them with some needed moisture. The paper towels will keep the arugula from drying out and also soak up the extra moisture.
So, carefully wrap the arugula bunches with paper towels and put them in the bag. Place the bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
Pro Tip: Make sure that you don’t wash the leaves until just before using them. This will extend their life. Additionally, poke some holes in the plastic bag to ensure the free circulation of air.
Another way to store arugula is to freeze it. However, it is not as simple as freezing other leafy greens such as spinach, which you can just blanch and freeze in heavy-duty freezer bags. You can take the same route with arugula, however, the leaves will turn mushy and will not taste the same.
So, instead of blanching arugula leaves to freeze them, put the leaves in some olive oil in a shallow container. Make sure the leaves are fully submerged in the oil. Olive oil will help the leaves retain their peppery flavor. Put the container in your freezer. Once the arugula is frozen inside the oil, break it into tiny pieces and put them all into a heavy-duty freezer bag to use later.
If you happen to have the whole arugula plant with its roots still attached, then you can store it in a mason jar. Pour some water in the jar and carefully place the plant in it. Cover the jar with a plastic bag and make sure that the plastic is not pressing down on the plant. Your arugula plant will stay fresh for about a week.
How Long Can Arugula Be Stored for?
When stored properly, raw arugula can be kept in sealable bags in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, provided the bag remains unopened. However, once opened, make sure to consume the greens within 2 days. You can store raw arugula in the fridge for 3 days.
How Do You Know If Arugula Has Gone Bad?
The easiest way to tell if arugula has gone bad or not is by looking at it. The leaves will turn dark and appear wet and soggy. If you still can’t tell that it has gone bad or not, just give it a good whiff. If the leaves smell nasty and spoiled and the signature peppery smell comes off as sour, then discard them right away.
What Is the Difference Between Arugula and Spinach?
While spinach and arugula are both green leaves that share quite a few similarities, there are some stark differences that separate the two. Spinach leaves are wide and oval-shaped, while the arugula leaves are elongated with tell-tale ridges in them.
Additionally, as mentioned above, arugula has a strong peppery flavor. On the other hand, spinach has a milder, more vegetal flavor. Furthermore, when cooking with spinach, you’ll realize that it’s thicker than arugula, so it holds up over a high flame. Arugula, on the other hand, is best when it is used in its raw form and added to the dishes toward the end of the cooking process.
The Bottom Line
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on “What Is Arugula?” Now that you know what it is and how to use it, I hope you experiment with this leafy green and add it to various salads and other dishes. Make sure to pick out the freshest arugula and store it the right way so that you can enjoy this peppery veggie at its freshest.