Spinach Vs. Arugula: Which Leafy Green Should You Choose?

With summer around the corner, you're probably considering which leafy greens you want to include in your barbecue or picnic spreads. When it comes to spinach or arugula, which is the better choice? Both are wonderful healthy options that we incorporate into our daily routines and recipes. Apart from sharing a color, these leaves also contain similar amounts of fiber, protein, and calories. So, what separates them? Their taste, shape, and uses vary contrastingly, as well as their origins.

Spinach is a member of the Amaranthaceae family (which also includes beets and chard) and can be consumed fresh or canned. On the other hand, arugula is classified as part of the Brassicaceae plant group or mustard family and is usually eaten fresh. Apart from these scientific differences, spinach and arugula have unique characteristics you'll want to consider before deciding which to choose.

Fiesty arugula

Named 'rocket' by the British, arugula is a peppery salad leaf cultivated as a spice and aphrodisiac. It is native to the dry and hot Mediterranean, and its shape resembles a thinner child's Christmas tree drawing — a pointy end with multiple longer ridges. From the University of Reading, Luke Bell explained to Independent how the spicy aroma of arugula is due to a chemical compound found in the leaves. This compound was thought to protect the plant from herbivores. Little did the arugula know that we'd end up munching on it for its health benefits.

This leaf is perfect for adding a nutty, peppery kick to a recipe. Although pesto is usually made with basil, replacing this sweet herb with arugula gives you a more pungent, deeper flavor. Don't forget to add a dash of lemon juice to your pesto; it will really bind the rest of the ingredients. This leaf is also fantastic in a salad, especially when you plan to serve it with fish or seafood. Take a swordfish salad, for example, where arugula adds a mustardy kick.

Splendid spinach

Usually oval- or spade-shaped, spinach is believed to have been first used domestically in Persia. First, it is argued to be superior to arugula due to its health benefits. Spinach contains over three times the amount of Vitamin K as arugula, which is essential for keeping bones strong and supporting the production of red blood cells. Both spinach and arugula contain high levels of nitrates, yet arugula contains considerably more. Nitrates in leafy greens have been a contentious point of research, with a 2014 study claiming that they could cause low blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen available when exercising. Yet more recently, it's suggested that these levels may only be harmful to children or those who consume vegetables in large quantities. Everything is acceptable in moderation, right?

Another reason you may opt for spinach over arugula is for its versatility. Unlike spicy arugula, spinach's milder flavor works wonderfully in a summer salad or a morning smoothie. Yet its stronger texture also makes it a great addition to cooked recipes. Think of serving it inside an omelet, sauteed with lardons, or baked into a glorious spanakopita. Ultimately, the choice between spinach and arugula is precisely how you want to enjoy your leafy greens. Arugula is the way to go if you're in the mood for a peppery kick, but if you want a nutrient-packed, mellow-tasting option, spinach is the perfect choice. With these two options, the world is your oyster — or your leaf!