Does Cooking Arugula Make It Less Bitter?

by Charlie
Fresh arugula

Arugula is great for salad blends because it has lots of great nutrients. It can also supplement burgers, vegetable smoothies, pestos, pastas, pizzas, and soups! But there is one thing that turns a lot of people off of arugula, and that is its bitterness.

Does cooking arugula make it less bitter? Yes, cooking arugula does make it less bitter. When arugula is just too bitter, blanch it, then sauté it or add it to a pasta or soup. Alternatively, you can marinade it with complementary flavors to help balance it out. Either of these will help reduce the bitterness and make it more palatable to more people!

Why is Arugula Bitter?

The two main factors behind arugula’s bitterness are:

  • When it is harvested
  • Genetics

In the case of the latter, it is just like when some people think cilantro tastes like soap! Some people are just naturally predisposed to find arugula more bitter. In the case of the former, when arugula gets too big and is harvested late, it amplifies the bitter, peppery taste. 

And, just like some people like cilantro when it tastes like soap, some people are really into the taste of super bitter arugula.

But if you are not one of the people that likes the bitterness, or is frequently cooking for people who can’t stand it, you’ll want to do your best to get your arugula before it’s too bitter, and cook it in a way that dampens the flavor.

When to Harvest Arugula?

Arugula is easy to keep in a home garden because it does not die easily. It grows quickly and produces many leaves.

However, because arugula also can so fast, the older leaves tend to harbor a more bitter taste than the peppery one arugula is sought after for.

Unlike spinach and kale, which both taste good in their baby and mature forms, arugula is best used young. Once the plant has flowered, the greens tend to get very tough and bitter.

The best time to harvest is when the leaves are still little, and it is best to keep it in a state of perpetual baby greens. However, utilizing larger arugula leaves is still possible, just probably not in your salad. 

You keep the plant in a perpetual state of baby greens by frequently going out with a pair of scissors and cutting off the leaves when they’re about three or four inches high. These little leaves can be used fresh in salads and as garnishes for pizza and on top of soups.

In the event that you end up with leaves that are too big and bitter, there are several ways to prepare them to still be able to use them and not waste them by throwing them out.

What is Blanching?

Blanching has many benefits, including loosening thick skins, achieving crisp but tender textures, and preparing produce for long-term freezer storage.

Blanching is actually surprisingly easy and does not take much time or tools. It involves boiling the arugula first, then dropping it into an ice bath. 

You will need to prepare an ice bath in one bowl and start another large pot boiling on the stove. You want about one gallon per pound of arugula. The boiling water should also have a generous helping of salt.

Once the water is boiling, you submerge the arugula for about 30 seconds. Remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and add them to the ice water for about 2 minutes.  

Once the arugula is blanched, it will be less bitter and can be used in your cooking! You can also put it in your salads after blanching, but the texture will be a little different. All you have to do after blanching is pat it dry so it can be utilized.

Ideal Complements for Arugula

There are plenty of other foods and spices that complement arugula and tame the bitterness, regardless of how it is being prepared.

Arugula goes well with lemon, onions, garlic, and bacon. It is also best cooked with olive or coconut oil, as the fats in the oils help with the taste and help you absorb the nutrients better. 

Sweet potatoes are also a good opposing flavor to arugula, particularly spicy arugula. They help mitigate the overpowering taste into a flavorful dish!

Marinading Arugula

Regardless of blanching, you can always marinade arugula in a little bit of lemon and oil to soften the bitter taste. Marinading forces the arugula to become a complementary flavor as opposed to an overpowering one.

You’ll know your greens mixture is ready when your arugula is a little wilted, but also tangy and flavorful. Once it is marinaded, it can be used in pestos, sauces, and pastas.

Sautéing and Simmering Arugula

You can also sauté the arugula regardless of blanching or marinading. Sauteing arugula with onions and garlic is an ideal way to allow the flavors to blend together and create a flavorful addition to your meal. 

You may also find that sautéing with a splash of honey can really help cut down on the bitter taste.

Adding Arugula to Sauces

You’ll want to cook the arugula before adding it to sauces due to both texture and flavor. But any combination of blanching, marinading, and otherwise cooking beforehand will prepare your arugula perfectly to be added to pasta sauces both red and white.

Adding Arugula to Soups

Arugula can be added to soups fresh, as it will lose its bitterness in the cooking process. However, if the arugula is suspected to be too bitter, it is best to blanch it first before adding it to soups.

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