The proliferation of bagged salads in the supermarket shelves has given a boost to the cultivation of arugula in the Spanish Region of Murcia. This plant, which had been present in those fields for centuries, had never been produced on a large scale until the arrival of the fresh cut sector. Its demand is increasing every year, even though the commercial production in the Region of Murcia was practically non-existent less than five years ago.
The ready-made bags with sprouts of vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and endive already include arugula in many cases. This vegetable was considered an aphrodisiac by the Romans; a fact that had hardly been investigated until barely two decades ago. "Although it is a wild grass that can also be found here, the commercial crop comes from Italy," explains Juan García, co-author of 'Outdoor horticultural crops'.
Official records don't mention its presence in farms in Murcia until 2015, when the production was estimated at 14,000 kilos. The following year, it reached 86,000 tons, the same amount as in 2017.
"Bagged salads have made this possible," says Garcia. "We copied the Europeans, and when the bagged salads were introduced, the demand for these crops also increased." The expert says that, "when we started growing arugula, our grandparents would say to us: 'What are you doing, that's a weed!'"
García explains that while arugula is expensive and difficult to grow in Spain, it is much more common in Italy, where bags of it are sold to be used as a pizza ingredient. In the United States, it is even offered in bulk. "You fill your bag using tweezers, as they also do with spinach and other herbs. It's a way of marketing them that has not yet arrived here." He says that, at most, they are offered unmixed to catering companies, but they are usually an ingredient of the aforementioned bags. "It has a bitter aftertaste that gives salads a special touch, and it also allegedly has anticancer effects, which is something that the University of Almeria is studying," says Garcia.
The most successful variety in the market is the so-called Wild Arugula (Selvatica), more jagged and thin than the "cultivated", which has a larger, more rounded leaf. However, the "cultivated" is the one now proliferating in the region of Murcia.