Appreciating a Bowlful of Arugula

Arugula has a reputation for being snobby, but is one of the tastiest greens out there.

In the world of leafy greens, arugula and iceberg lettuce are complete opposites.

Arugula is peppery, assertive, and wild; iceberg is crunchy and polite. Arugula is rich in vitamin C and potassium, while iceberg has little nutritional value, containing mostly water. Despite this, iceberg is the most popular lettuce in the United States, while arugula was little known in North America until recently.

Which, aside from painting a rather puritan picture of the American palate, is just a damn shame. Arugula—or salad rocket, as it’s known in much of the English-speaking world—is one of the meanest, tastiest greens there is.

Its history is suggestive. As early as the first century CE, arugula was documented as an aphrodisiac. Virgil wrote of its libido-inducing proper- ties, and its leaves and seeds were used in lusty concoc- tions rumored to spice up life in the bedroom.

Since then, arugula has come to stand for less stimulating virtues. In an unexpected turn, it has recently been evoked as a symbol for elitism—a perception at odds with its racy personality.

Arugula, it seems, is widely considered an ingredient reserved for highfalutin foodies. When presidential hopeful Barack Obama uttered the word to a handful of Iowa…