Food for thought: Is arugula too bitter for you?

Arugula is also known as rocket or roquette.

I started picking up my weekly “farm box” from Nash’s Organic Produce last month, and have already received a couple of bunches of arugula. I *love* arugula!! But I have friends who find it too bitter, just as some people find broccoli or Brussels sprouts too bitter.

Guess what? It’s genetic!


Some people have more sensitive taste receptors than other people, and this includes sweet and salty tastes as well as bitterness. These people are sometimes called supertasters. Supertasters perceive a greater bitterness in foods from the Brassica family (kale, broccoli, cabbage… arugula) although some studies have shown that the sensitivity does not correlate directly with avoidance of them.

Though the phenomenon of varying sensitivity was observed in laboratories many decades ago, only in the last ten years have scientists nailed down the genetic details. A science article in The Guardian newspaper (UK) summarizes the details nicely.

Personally, I find arugula slightly bitter, peppery, and a great base or addition to salads. I love it steamed in pasta with a light sauce (a couple of chopped fresh tomatoes sauteed with onion and garlic, and add chopped arugula for the last couple of minutes, then pour over and toss with steaming hot pasta). I also had arugula in Italy cooked in a light gravy with beef or veal, a delicious combination.

So how about you–yes or no to arugula? And if you like it, what’s your favorite way to prepare it?



34 thoughts on “Food for thought: Is arugula too bitter for you?

  1. Not sure I buy this theory. I LOATHE!!! arugula. It is the worst, most bitter excuse for a salad green. (So of course, it’s become the inescapable “it” food.) And mustard is nearly as bad. But broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts all taste great to me. My husband, conversely, loves arugula but hates brussel sprouts.

  2. (American) I love broccoli. But two things I can’t eat…celery and arugula. Celery is extremely bitter, i even tried it with peanut butter or cream cheese and i can’t do it. Arugula’s burnt rubber smell is enough to make me weed it out of my garden mix. I found this article because they say arugula is supposed to taste peppery, but all I smell is a car tire and finally i find one person who agrees. Even baby plants are too pungent.

    • Wow, I am amazed. I have heard the debate about cilantro…yummy vs. Soap tasting. (I love cilantro) But with arugula, never knew there was an issue, i just knew that i did not like the way it smelled like burning rubber. I thought it was me…and here you are ! Thank you for validating my nose and taste buds !

      • Thanks for the comment, Christina! Foods really do taste different to different people. I love arugula and often use it in salads with something sweet (mandarin oranges, for instance) to balance the sharp flavor.

  3. For me, it’s not a matter of liking or disliking, arugula is bitter to the point it is inedible. It’s kind of like that special polish parents paint on their children’s nails to keep them from biting them. I find this fascinating because it clearly transcends preference — it must just taste different to other people.

      • I actually had my DNA tested (whole genome decoded by 23andme, it’s facinating!) and it turns out I do have this bitterness tasting gene. Yet I love rocket /arugula.
        But I am sure there are more genes related to tasting yet to be discovered, because definitely agree with CFW, this is way more than just personal preference. My husband and son both find rocket so revolting they cannot imagine how it ever came to be regarded as food…. which is my own experience with beetroot. if everyone tasted beetroot the way I do, nobody on earth would eat it! It tastes like soil!

  4. Pingback: Arugula is on the way! | The Italian South

  5. That’s very interesting, and probably explains why my husband insists rocket tastes like rubbery car tyres. I absolutely love it, but I have to eat it on my own!
    On the subject of rocket (as we call it in England – is arugula the American word?), I stayed with a family in Matera (in Basilicata) years ago and developed awful flu. They fed me on wild rocket several times a day which the father would go out and gather before sunrise, as he said the leaves contain a “kind of medicine” which goes down into the roots as soon as the sun comes up. It got rid of my flu completely in 3 days.

    • I will be planting some soon–hadn’t thought about getting up to harvest it before sunrise, though! It is not called rocket in the US–at least not in my area–and isn’t arugula the Italian word? (I have seen it referred to as rocket in some places in Italy, but thought that was in deference to English speaking tourists.)

  6. I love a lot of members of the brassica family. I can eat a leaf or two of arugula and enjoy it, but I can’t imagine eating very much. I would love to find a good way to mellow it out some. It is available to me in largish bags and some always goes bad before I can eat all of it.

    • I enjoy it with pasta, added to the steaming drained pasta with just a little of the hot water, to wilt it, add some halved cherry tomatoes and olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper. I also add some to soups, beef gravy to put over meat loaf or roast beef. And for salad, mix about 1/3 arugula with 2/3 romaine or butter lettuce. That’s what works for me.

  7. I love arugula, or rocket as it is labeled here. I eat it nearly every day for lunch. And some is very bitter and some much less tangy but it is all delicious to me! Yum.

  8. Absolute yes: great with sliced crisp pear, walnuts and a really light vinaigrette (nice fruity olive oil in the dressing). My partner adds shaved parmesan, but I prefer it without.

  9. I love it, although at this time of the growing season, it does get more bitter. I plant it in my garden and find that some varieties are more bitter or peppery than others also. I first appreciated it after reading Under the Tuscan Sun – it was probably the recipe’s other ingredients, pancetta and cream, that made me try it though!

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