Two leafy greens with a reputation for being extremely healthy. But how are they different? And which is better? Arugula vs spinach – let’s break it all down!
Origin and History
Arugula: Also known as “rocket” arugula is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which includes other well-known plants like broccoli, cabbage, and mustard. Its origins can be traced back to the Mediterranean region, where it has been cultivated for centuries. The exact era of its domestication is unclear, but it’s believed that arugula was consumed by ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and Romans. It remained an important green in Italy long after the Roman empire fell, and spread across Europe from there. Today, arugula is grown in the USA primarily in California and Arizona.
Spinach: Spinach is native to Southwest Asia, and is believed to have been first cultivated in Persia, modern day Iran, over 2,000 years ago. Spinach was brought to Europe in the 11th Century by the Moors, Muslims who inhabited modern day Spain from the 8th to 16th Centuries. Spinach didn’t reach the United States until 1806, but it came to stay. Today 90% of the spinach grown in the USA is grown in California and Arizona.
Arugula: This bright green lettuce variation features elongated, deeply lobed leaves that resemble dandelion leaves. The 2-3 inch long leaves can vary in shape, but are normally spiky and serrated. Their shape is what got them the nickname “rocket leaves”.
Spinach: Spinach has flat, broad and smooth leaves that are dark green in color. The leaves are thin and delicate, and are typically around 2-3 inches lobg. Spinach leaves are often used in salads, and can be eaten raw or cooked. When cooked, spinach leaves shrink in size and become limp.
Aroma, Taste, and Texture
Arugula: Two of arugula’s most notable attributes are its peppery aroma and bold flavor. The leaves emit a distinct scent that’s often described as slightly spicy and nutty. Arugula leaves have a similarly peppery and tangy flavor that intensifies as the leaves mature. The younger leaves are milder and more delicate, while the older ones can develop a more bitter and pronounced spiciness. In terms of texture, arugula leaves are tender and crisp, which adds a pleasant contrast to various dishes.
Spinach: Spinach has a mild and slightly sweet aroma, with a hint of earthiness. The smell becomes stronger when the leaves are cooked, but it is not overpowering. That said, cooked spinach does release a slightly bitter smell that some people find unpleasant. Spinach is known for its mild and slightly sweet grassy flavor, and has a delicate texture and can be eaten raw or cooked.
To sum up a flavor comparison, spinach is sort of sweet but grassy, arugula is peppery and more bitter! Why not consider salad with spinach and arugula? They have complimentary flavors and health benefits.
Arugula: Arugula can be used in many of the same ways that you would use in other lettuce recipes. It is great as a salad base, in wraps, or as a sandwich addition. You can even make an arugula smoothie as arugula is an easy substitute for spinach in green smoothies. We think, however, that Arugula comes into its own when cooked in favorites like arugula pizza, or a both sweet and savory twist on a classic in a Blueberry Balsamic Grilled Cheese.
You might also try arugula microgreens. These are simply very young arugula plants, harvested just days after germination with a fresh, crisp texture. They are a wonderful sandwich topper or salad addition.
If you’re cooking with an arugula bunch (versus from the ready-to-eat bags), be sure to cut off any thick stems. Rinse it thoroughly and dry in a salad spinner.
Spinach: Spinach is a versatile green that can be eaten raw or cooked. Its mild, slightly sweet flavor pairs well with a variety of cuisines. Raw spinach can be used in salads, smoothies, and sandwiches, while cooked spinach can be used as a side dish or added to soups and stews. There are a lot of great ways to cook spinach to include roasting, sauteing, or you can even air fry spinach. Spinach is also a popular ingredient in quiches and omelets. See all of our spinach recipes here, or our favorites below!
- How to Make Green Smoothies People Will Like
- Leafy Greens Pesto with Spinach
- Greek Spanakopita Triangles
- Hidden Spinach Guacamole
Storing Arugula in the Refrigerator: Place the arugula in a plastic bag or an airtight container. You can add a paper towel to help absorb excess moisture, which will help extend its freshness. Store the bag or container in the vegetable crisper drawer if you have space. Arugula will typically last around 3 to 7 days in the refrigerator, but don’t wait long as it wilts.
Freezing Arugula: While arugula can be frozen, it’s important to note that its texture may change upon thawing, making it better suited for use in cooked dishes rather than salads. We recommend you blanch the arugula in boiling water for about 15 to 30 seconds, then immediately transfer it to an ice water bath to cool quickly and stop the cooking process. Drain the arugula well and squeeze out excess moisture. Divide the arugula into portion-sized amounts and place them in airtight freezer-safe bags or containers. Label the bags or containers with the date and use within 2 to 3 months for best quality. Thaw the frozen arugula directly in dishes as you cook them, or just throw them right into a smoothie.
Storing Spinach in the Refrigerator: Similar to arugula, spinach should also be stored in the refrigerator not at room temperature. Place the spinach in a plastic bag or an airtight container. Adding a paper towel can help absorb excess moisture and prolong freshness. Keep the spinach in the crisper drawer, and it should last around 5 to 7 days.
Freezing Spinach: Freezing spinach can alter its texture, making it more suitable for use in cooked dishes. Like arugula we recommend you blanch it in boiling water for about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the blanched spinach to an ice water bath to cool quickly. Drain and squeeze out excess moisture, then divide the spinach into portion size airtight freezer-safe bags or containers. For best quality use within 6 to 12 months. Again, thaw frozen spinach directly in dishes as you cook. If I freeze spinach, it is generally because I am freezing spinach for smoothies. It is the ultimate nutritional booster for any smoothie, and an easy use for those baggies in the freezer.
There are numerous varieties of both spinach and arugula. Like most other fruits and vegetables, over the centuries growers cross bred plants to develop new varieties to achieve specific tastes, hardier plants, and other desirable characteristics.
Arugula: Some of the most common and popular types of arugula include:
- Dragon’s Tongue
- Wild arugula
Spinach: This list includes some of the most common spinach varieties, but there are many more worldwide.
- Flat Leaf (the most commonly found spinach in the USA)
- Giant Noble
- New Zealand
- Red Kitten
Arugula: The 5 most common substitutes for arugula are listed below. If arugula just isn’t to your taste, give any of these a try as a recipe substitute.
- Spinach: As we said in this article, Spinach is a versatile leafy green with a mild flavor that can work well as a substitute for arugula in salads and sandwiches. While it lacks the peppery kick, it provides a fresh and tender base for your dishes.
- Baby Kale: Baby kale is milder than mature kale and has a similar nutrient profile to arugula. It can provide a slightly earthy taste and is a good option for salads and wraps.
- Watercress: Watercress has a peppery flavor similar to arugula, making it a suitable replacement in salads and as a garnish. Keep in mind that watercress can be quite delicate, so handle it gently.
- Endive: Endive has a slightly bitter taste and a crisp texture, making it a good substitute for arugula in salads. Its leaves can add a nice crunch to your dishes.
- Radish Greens: Radish greens have a peppery flavor similar to arugula. If you buy radishes with their greens still attached, you can use the greens in salads or sautés.
Spinach: The 5 most common substitutes for spinach are:
- Kale: Kale is another leafy green that is rich in nutrients and vitamins. It has a slightly stronger flavor than spinach, but it can be used in similar ways, such as in salads, smoothies, and sautés.
- Swiss Chard: Chard has a similar taste and texture to spinach, with slightly larger leaves and colorful stems. Both the leaves and stems are edible and can be used in various dishes as a substitute for spinach.
- Collard Greens: Collard greens have a tougher texture than spinach, so they must often be cooked longer to become tender. They have a slightly bitter taste but are nutrient-dense and can be used in soups, stews, and sautés in place of spinach.
- Arugula: Arugula, also known as rocket, has a peppery and slightly bitter flavor. No need to say much more as we have already walked that dog in this article, but it is a great option for salads and can be used as a spinach substitute in many dishes.
- Watercress: Watercress has a slightly spicy and peppery flavor. It’s often used in salads, and can also be added to sandwiches or used as a garnish for various dishes.
Arugula Vs Spinach Nutrition Information
Arugula: Leafy greens are all superstars nutritionally, and arugula is no exception. According to the USDA a 100g (3.5 ounce) serving of Arugula contains:
- 25 Calories
- 47% of the RDA of Vitamin A
- 25% of RDA of Vitamin C
- 90% of RDA of Vitamin K
- 8% RDA of Iron
- 2.6 grams of protein
- 1.6 grams of fiber
Spinach: Spinach is so ridiculously healthy we have a whole guide on the health benefits of spinach here. According to the USDA, a 100 gram serving of raw spinach provides:
- 23 Calories
- 312% of the RDA of Vitamin A
- 46% of Vitamin C
- 402% of Vitamin K
- 15% of Iron
- 3.0 grams of protein
- 2.2 grams of fiber
As you can see, spinach has protein, fiber, and micronutrient contents that are a bit higher than provided by arugula, but that is like comparing an A to an A+. Both are a great component for building a healthy diet. Use them both in say a Spinach and arugula salad.
That wraps up our look at spinach vs arugula. Hopefully you found some recipes with arugula and spinach that peak your interest, and as always happy cooking!