Produce of the Month: Arugula!
Arugula is known for its bright, tangy flavor that can accompany many fruits, veggies, and meats in a variety a dishes. It’s also chock full of vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting glucosinates, so you can’t go wrong when chowing down on an arugula salad!
Photo credit: Leah Boyer
Background & History
Arugula, which is also known as rocket, roquette, rugula, and rucola, originated in the Mediterranean and has been cultivated since the times of the Romans, when the the seeds were used to flavor olive oil. European use of arugula continued to be found here and there throughout the centuries. In the 1980s, the name “arugula” became more common in the US when it became more popular for its health benefits and unique flavor.
Characteristics & Types
There are various species of arugula, in two different genuses (Diplotaxis and Eruca). Each species varies in flavor — some are more bitter and spicy than others. The young leaves of arugula have a nutty, spicy flavor that develops into a more bitter taste as the plant matures. Arugula grows low to the ground and leaves are ready to pick when they are 2 to 3 inches long. Once leaves are mature, the plant will start sending up shoots with small white flowers.
The leaves are high in Vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. It also good for people with sensitive stomachs and those prone to heartburn because of its anti-ulcer properties and its ability to reduce gastric acid secretions.
In Southern California, arugula can be grown pretty easily through all but the hottest months in both gardens and planters. The hotter the weather, the more tangy the leaves! The leaves will continue to grow back when harvested. Be sure you don’t plant more than you can use, though, because once it starts growing, it really takes off!
Tips & How to Enjoy
Arugula can be used in many other ways besides salads (although arugula in salads is pretty tasty!). It’s great as a topping for pizza. Dress it in a little oil and/or vinegar and put it on top of the pizza right after it comes out of the oven. A prosciutto and arugula pizza is very delicious!
If you have a lot of arugula to use, you can also use arugula as an alternative to basil in pesto.
The ancient Romans considered arugula to be an aphrodisiac.
Arugula contains about eight times the calcium, fives times the vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K, and four times the iron as the same amount of iceberg lettuce.