What is watercress?
Watercress is just one variety of the many green leafy vegetables that contain unusually high amounts of vitamin C. Many people also use watercress in salad mixes, soups, and stir-fry dishes, and use the stems and even the roots in other dishes.
Watercress is easy to grow, and if you have a dark corner in your backyard, it’s well worth growing a few plants to have around. Watercress has a distinct flavor and a peppery texture, but there are several other types of greens that have distinctive flavors, textures, and nutritional properties that you can use as a substitute for watercress in a variety of dishes.
The most common types are garden cress, upland cress, Japanese cress, pepper cress, and curled-leaf cress.
How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?
Watercress, a leafy green that resembles spinach but is small and peppery-tasting, is one of the most nutritious raw vegetables available. Watercress is a nutritional and antioxidant powerhouse.
It’s high in fiber, low in calories, and contains antioxidants and phytonutrients. It’s used as a garnish in sandwiches and as an accent in salads and other dishes. It’s also highly recommended for cleansing the liver.
In small amounts, watercress is low-risk. However, it can be mildly toxic if taken in heavy amounts. Do not use the wild form – it can be highly toxic.
Watercress is a nutritional powerhouse that I love pairing with other vegetables. While it’s a member of the Brassicaceae family, including cabbage and cauliflower, it tastes very different. Watercress has a peppery and lemony flavor and is commonly used in salads and sandwiches.
Young watercress plants have dark green leaves with prominent veins and a fuller flavor. They have the best taste if picked before they can bloom. As they mature, the leaves become light green with a more delicate flavor.
If you’re looking to add more nutrients to your diet, watercress is a versatile leafy green that’s easy to work with and can be used in various recipes.
Watercress is loaded with folic acid, manganese, vitamins C, A, K, potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, E, and also antioxidants. Watercress is high in iodine. It is also rich in antioxidants and has a high concentration of glucosinolates.
Watercress gets its peppery flavor from the mustard oils it contains. One cup of watercress has twice the amount of vitamin C found in one orange, all three of the B vitamins, and provides lots of iron and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
What recipes are watercress used in?
Watercress is a spicy, peppery green that has a slightly bitter taste. It is used in sandwiches and salads, and soups and stir-fries. Watercress can be tricky to grow, depending on where you live, so if you don't grow your own, you can find it in your grocery store in the produce section.
Watercress has long been known as a medicinal herb and was used by the Romans. Its name comes from the Latin word "nasturtium," which means "nose twister," and was used to describe the spicy and robust scent produced by chew watercress.
Watercress is most popularly known for being eaten in sandwiches. It is also popular in Chinese cooking. Both oil and vinegar-based salads are delicious when prepared with watercress. Freshwater fish and poultry use watercress as an essential ingredient.
Why do we need watercress substitutes?
Unfortunately, it’s not available year-round, and it’s more expensive than other salad greens. And many people avoid it because of its slightly peppery taste.
So how about other salad greens? Are there other greens as nutritious as watercress, but better tasting and less expensive? I’ve done some research, and you’ll have to keep reading to find out the answer.
You can replace watercress with arugula, radish sprouts, spinach, endive, dandelion greens, and kale.
Arugula, also known as rocket, is one of the best options for replacing watercress in a dish. It has a mild peppery profile, just like watercress, and is readily available in most grocery stores. If you’re growing arugula at home, keep in mind that the young leaves have a less intense bite than the mature ones, which develop a pungent pepperiness.
Arugula leaves that are sold in stores are relatively mild and at an affordable price. This lettuce-like green is becoming more and more popular. If you can't find watercress in the store, you can rely on these tasty greens as a watercress substitute.
Pasta, Pizza, and soup all benefit from the addition of arugula. Its leaves are not as crunchy as watercress, but they are harder; they will tolerate cooking methods such as stir-frying and braising. Unlike watercress, arugula doesn't tend to turn mushy if it is cooked too long.
Arugula and watercress share their peppery flavor, but if you can't find watercress, arugula is the next best thing to substitute it.
Radish sprouts are very similar to watercress in terms of the benefits they offer, both of them are loaded with calcium, but radish sprouts have benefits that watercress doesn’t have, like more vitamin C. Although, watercress is better when it comes to fighting inflammation and fighting cancer, while radish sprouts seem to be better at detoxification.
So if you need the nutrients that watercress offers – but you can’t get your hands on some, you can use radish sprouts to give your recipe a flavorful and healthy punch.
Spinach is included on this list for those that want a substitute for watercress with a bit different taste and texture. If you are among those who don't enjoy the peppery taste of watercress, then spinach is for you to consider.
The raw green leaves have a slightly mild and sweet flavor with a nice crunch for salads. Once cooked, its texture becomes mushy and soft.
Add a generous amount of black pepper to spinach to make it taste more like watercress.
Both watercress and spinach are rich sources of iron, calcium, potassium, and folate. Regular consumption of these two vegetables can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Ounce for ounce, watercress, and spinach contain similar nutrients, but raw spinach contains slightly fewer calories than watercress. Watercress leaves are smaller and have a more pungent taste than spinach, while spinach leaves are larger and blander. In terms of weight, spinach is almost three times heavier than watercress and is slightly richer in calories.
Endive is a form of chicory, part of the same family as radicchio, and is known for its crisp and pungent bitter profile. The critical difference between chicory and endive is that chicory is the root while endive is the leaf. The root form is called Chicon or witloof. Both the root form and leaf can be used as a substitute for watercress.
They are an excellent addition to salads for those that like lots of flavor in their food. Once cooked, the punchy flavor softens, and it becomes slightly tart and mildly sweet. This is an excellent option for roasting, grilling, or braising. It withstands the heat much better than watercress. Another similar vegetable to endive which you might want to consider is the less bitter escarole.
Other variations of endive that you can use to replace the watercress are as follows:
This is a form of chicory. It is a long, thin leaf that can be pale green or purple/red. It is generally available in the fall and winter months when you can't easily find watercress.
This form of endive is more bitter than other forms and is often used in salads. It is available year-round and can be a suitable replacement for watercress in multiple recipes.
Dandelion greens are very nutritious, rich in iron, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. They have a bitter and peppery taste, just like watercress but not that much pronounced.
Nothing is more satisfying than biting into a bunch of dandelion greens. The tasty little critters are a great source of beta carotene, vitamin C, and fiber.
If you’re a healthy eater and eat many veggies, there’s a good chance that you’ve eaten a bunch of dandelion greens before. While you can use dandelion as a substitute for watercress, make sure you add something that will round out your meal. Dandelion greens also have a watery aftertaste that you may not enjoy unless you have something sweet to balance out.
Kale is a superfood in its own right, and it contains more vitamins and minerals than some other types of cress. Something like kale would be a great substitute if you are looking for something to add to a salad for color and flavor, but you don’t have watercress at hand.
Wonderfully crispy, kale is also packed with health benefits such as calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamin K. Depending on what you’re using it for, you can use the leaves you need and then chop the rest of the bunch and store them in an airtight container in your refrigerator.
Kale is a member of the Brassicaceae family, just like watercress, and it is relatively easy to find in most grocery stores. If you’re struggling to find watercress or any of the substitutes mentioned above on this list, you could use kale in a pinch. It has a more robust bitter flavor with leaves that are tougher in texture.
The Bottom Line
Not everyone likes watercress, so it is a good thing that there are many substitutes around.
Not all of the watercress substitutes I have found have the same taste, texture, and calorie count as fresh watercress.
Arugula is a fair substitute for watercress. Dandelion leaves are much more bitter than other substitutes. You can also try radish leaves with a lot of crunchy goodness but are not as tangible sour as watercress.
Top Vegan Picks
Watercress is a nutrient and vitamin-packed leafy green that has been used as a medicinal plant throughout history.
While watercress is very nutritious, it’s also a pricey vegetable. If you want to experience the health benefits of watercress without spending a lot of money, try using Dandelion greens, arugula, kale, and radish sprouts as a vegan substitute for watercress.
Top Healthy Picks
It is a delicious and versatile green and an excellent source of vitamins A and C. It also contains lutein, zeaxanthin, folate, and potassium.
It is a tasty salad green that has two times the protein of spinach and three times the vitamin C and lutein of spinach.
It is a member of the cabbage family and packs a powerful nutrient punch. Its dark green leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K and antioxidants
Top Convenient Picks
Lettuce are widely available green leaves available around the year, and you can conveniently substitute watercress in a recipe with lettuce. The best thing about lettuce is that you can find different variants to choose from: iceberg lettuce, butterhead, Batavia, Lactuca, celtuce, and so many more. All of them are low in calories but packed with healthy, beneficial nutrients.
Top Convincing Picks
Although watercress is your body's water pill in plant form and eating watercress regularly is good for your overall health, if you live in a country where watercress isn't readily available, you can use spinach as a convincing substitute in your recipes. Fill up your shopping bags with this watercress substitute and give your body some healthy nutrients.
Arugula is a tangy green leafy vegetable that's similar to watercress in taste and texture. It's commonly used in salads and has an almost peppery flavor. So, if you're buying bunches of arugula, your meals are also getting a dose of watercress.
Kale is a leafy green vegetable that has a mild flavor. It’s very versatile like spinach and arugula and can be eaten raw, cooked, or even juiced. Kale is available in a wide variety of varieties.