Arugula consists of vibrant green leaves attached to a pale creamy green hued stem. The leaves are lobed and can be harvested when young and mild in flavor or when fully mature at 3 or 4 inches in length. Arugula offers an herbaceous, peppery flavor with nuances of nuts and mustard. Leaves allowed to mature too long on the arugula plant will become bitter in taste. The pungent flavor of arugula is due to its high content of sulfur containing compounds known as glucosinolates.
Arugula scientifically known as Eruca sativa is a member of the mustard or Brassicaceae family along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard, radish and collard greens. Also known as salad rocket, roquette, Italian cress and rucola, both the leaves and flowers of this annual herb are edible and most commonly used today as a salad green.
Arugula is a nutrient rich leafy green providing vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, riboflavin, copper, iron, zinc, folate and potassium. Cruciferious vegetables such as arugula are also high in antioxidant phytochemicals and rich in sulfur containing compounds known as glucosinolates which have been shown to have detoxifying properties and may be beneficial in the prevention of certain types of cancer.
In the culinary world arugula is used as an herb, a salad green and even a leaf vegetable, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. It can be used both raw and cooked, though cooking will give the leaves a milder flavor. Add to raw pesto and sauces to showcase its pungency. Use as a leafy bed for grilled seafood. Chop and sprinkle atop pizza and pasta just before serving. Combine with other greens to spice up a salad. Add whole leaves to grilled cheese sandwiches or a BLT. Use in lieu of spinach in omelets and quiche. In the Gulf of Naples on the island of Ischia arugula is made into a liqueur known as Rucolino. The sharp flavor of arugula pairs well with citrus, roasted beets, pears, pine nuts, olives, tomato and robust cheeses such as goat, blue and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Mention of arugula can be found in several religious texts, in 2 Kings in the Bible it is referred to as oroth and in Jewish texts such as the Mishna and Talmud that date back to the first through fifth century AD. Arugula is noted for its use as both a food and medicine. In ancient Rome and Egypt consumption of arugula leaves and seeds were associated with aphrodisiac properties. In India the leaves of arugula are not commonly used however the seeds of the plant are pressed to produce oil known as taramira that is used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.