Arugula is a peppery, distinctive-tasting green that originated around the Mediterranean. It’s also known as rucola, salad rocket, and Italian cress. Arugula is a member of the Brassica, or Cruciferous, family. This classification includes cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Arugula leaves are tender and bite-sized with a tangy, peppery flavor. Along with other leafy greens, arugula contains high levels of beneficial nitrates and polyphenol. It is a nutrient-dense food that is high in fiber and phytochemicals. Arugula is low in sugar, calories, carbohydrates, and fat. It’s high in several vital nutrients. These include:
- Calcium, which helps the blood to clot normally. It’s also necessary for bone health, tooth health, muscle function, and nerve function.
- Potassium, a mineral and an electrolyte that’s vital for heart and nerve function. It also helps the muscles contract normally. Potassium helps to reduce the negative effects of sodium, and it may be beneficial for people with high blood pressure for this reason.
- Folate, a B vitamin. It helps support the production of DNA and other genetic material. It’s particularly important for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Folate deficiency in pregnant women may lead to spina bifida, a neural tube defect.
- Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps support the immune system. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is important for tissue health and the absorption of iron from food.
- Vitamin K, which helps with blood coagulation. If you require a prescription blood thinner, such as warfarin (Coumadin), discuss your vitamin K intake with your doctor prior to changing your eating habits.One cup of arugula provides 21.8 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, which goes towards the adult Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) daily value (DV) recommendation of 80 mcg for adults. Adequate vitamin K consumption improves bone health by playing an essential role in bone mineralization and helps to improve how the body absorbs and excretes calcium, which is another crucial nutrient for bone health. Arugula also contributes to a person’s daily need for calcium, providing 32 milligrams (mg) per cup, going towards the DV of 1,000 mg for adults.
- Vitamin A, the umbrella term for a group of fat-soluble retinoids. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant, which supports immune function, cell growth, night vision, and overall eye health. It also works to help maintain kidney, lung, and heart function.
Cruciferous vegetables like arugula are a source of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing substances. Glucosinolates may be responsible for the plants’ bitter taste and their cancer-fighting power. The body breaks down glucosinolates into a range of beneficial compounds, including sulforaphane.
Researchers have found that sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), which is involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make foods that contain sulforaphane a potentially significant part of cancer treatment in the future.
Reports have linked diets high in cruciferous vegetables with a reduced risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and more.
Arugula and other cruciferous vegetables are a good source of fiber, which helps to regulate blood glucose and may reduce insulin resistance. High fiber foods make people feel fuller for longer, meaning they can help tackle overeating.
In addition, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that consuming a diet high in cruciferous vegetables could reduce atherosclerosis in older women. Atherosclerosis is a common condition where plaque builds up in the arteries, increasing a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems. The heart protective effects of these vegetables may be due to their high concentration of beneficial plant compounds, including polyphenols and organosulfur compounds.
How to Buy
Look for arugula that is fresh, vibrant and green.
Avoid arugula leaves that are wilted, yellowing or slimy. When buying prepackaged arugula, check the bag for excess water, as moisture can cause arugula to rot quickly.
You will find arugula fresh in late spring, summer, and early fall.
How to Store
Arugula should be refrigerated and kept dry. Storing the arugula in a linen bag or a dry paper towel can help the greens stay dry. Kept dry and cool arugula can last up to two weeks. Arugula cannot be frozen.
How to Cook
People commonly add fresh arugula to salads, but it also works well incorporated into pasta, casseroles, and sauces, just like other leafy greens.
It tends to sauté faster than its tougher cousins kale and collard greens. Because of its tenderness, and it lends more flavor to a dish than spinach or Swiss chard.
Due to its peppery flavor, people often mix arugula with other milder greens, such as watercress and romaine. In Italy, it is common to top pizza with arugula after baking.
Arugula is easy to grow and perfect for a windowsill garden.
Here are some tips for incorporating more arugula into your diet:
- Add a handful of fresh arugula to a tofu scramble.
- Throw a handful of arugula and blend into a fresh juice or smoothie.
- Sauté arugula in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper. Eat as a side dish or top a baked potato.
- Add arugula leaves to a wrap, sandwich, or flatbread.
- Arugula’s leaf shape and taste also make it an interesting complement to citrus fruit and berry salads.
Arugula is delicious raw, and it can be used as a healthy add-on topping for pizza, nachos, sandwiches, and wraps. It can be served as a side salad with nothing more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Arugula can be used as an alternative to basil to make hot or cold pesto. When arugula is cooked, it loses some of its pepperiness.