The 18 Best Watercress Substitutes

Are you craving some watercress action in your dish but facing that classic first-world problem of not having it on hand? Fear not! Here’s your comprehensive guide to finding the best watercress substitute.

Green watercress.

What is Watercress?

Watercress is a leafy green vegetable with slender stems and rounded dark green leaves. It has a fresh, slightly spicy flavor and crisp texture. This versatile ingredient can be used raw in salads and sandwiches or cooked in soups, sauces, salad dressings, and stir-fries.

Watercress is also nutritious, packed with vitamin C, calcium, and antioxidants. No wonder it’s been valued since ancient times for its health benefits! It thrives near shallow streams and in moist environments.

Reasons to Substitute Watercress

Here are some common reasons you may need a watercress substitute:

  • Unavailability: Watercress is perishable and needs to be stored better. Finding fresh watercress can be tricky, depending on your location and season.
  • Allergies: Watercress is a common trigger for pollen-related allergies. Substituting can help avoid unpleasant reactions.
  • Cost: As a leafy vegetable delicate green, watercress tends to be pricier than heartier greens.
  • Strong flavor: Some find watercress too peppery or bitter, especially when eaten raw. Substituting can tone down these flavors.
  • Unsuitable texture: The soft leaves only work well in cooked dishes for some applications (e.g., stir-fries).

The Best Watercress Substitutes

When fresh watercress isn’t an option, try one of these tasty alternatives:


Why it works: Arugula has a similar peppery bite and green color as watercress.

Example dishes: Salads, sandwiches, pasta, pesto

Measurement: Use the same amount as watercress.

Dandelion Greens

Dandelion Greens in a bowl.

Why it works: Dandelion green has an assertive, slightly bitter flavor close to watercress. The jagged leaves also look comparable.

Example dishes: Salads, soups, sautés

Measurement: Use the same amount as watercress.


endive on a cutting board.

Why it works: The bittersweet taste of endive makes it a solid stand-in. Its frilly leaves add visual appeal.

Example dishes: Salads, sandwiches, appetizers

Measurement: Use less than watercress as the endive is denser.


Two heads of Frisee lettuce

Why it works: Frisée has delicate, lacy leaves like watercress and a pleasant bitter note.

Example dishes: Salads, omelets, sandwiches, garnishes

Measurement: Use the same amount as watercress.


mizuna leaves.

Why it works: This Japanese green has a growing method and peppery flavor similar to watercress. The serrated leaves also look comparable.

Example dishes: Salads, stir-fries, soups

Measurement: Use the same amount as watercress.


Radicchio on a table.

Why it works: The crunchy texture and pronounced bitterness make radicchio an acceptable substitute. Its burgundy leaves also provide color.

Example dishes: Salads, risottos, gratins

Measurement: Use a bit less than watercress as radicchio is denser.

Upland Cress

upland cress on a white background.

Why it works: Closely related to watercress, upland cress offers the same peppery bite and appearance.

Example dishes: Sandwiches, salads, sauces

Measurement: Use the same amount as watercress.

Garden Cress

growing garden cress.

Why it works: Another close cousin of watercress with small, green, oval leaves and tangy flavor.

Example dishes: Sandwiches, salads, garnishes

Measurement: Use more than watercress as the leaves are smaller.

Chinese Cabbage

Three bok choy bulbs.

Why it works: Raw Chinese cabbage makes a budget-friendly substitute with its crisp texture and spicy undertones.

Example dishes: Coleslaw, salad, stir-fry

Measurement: Use about 1/4 the amount of watercress as cabbage is denser.


A pile of Kale.

Why it works: The hearty greens and hint of bitterness in kale approximate watercress well. Massage raw kale to soften it.

Example dishes: Salads, sautés, soups, smoothies

Measurement: Chopped kale can be used in equal amounts to watercress.

Rocket / Rucola

Close up view of rocket arugala

Why it works: Like arugula, rocket has dark leaves and a pleasant peppery taste akin to watercress.

Example dishes: Pizzas, pasta, salads, pesto

Measurement: Use the same amount as watercress.

Nasturtium Leaves

Nasturtium leaves.

Why it works: From the same plant family, nasturtium leaves have a similar peppery profile and round leaves. It also has brightly colored flowers.

Example dishes: Salads, sandwiches, garnishes

Measurement: Roughly 1 1/2 times the amount of watercress.


Tatsoi in a bowl.

Why it works: The small spoon-shaped leaves, mild mustard flavor, and crunchy texture make tatsoi a good substitute.

Example dishes: Stir-fries, noodle dishes, soups

Measurement: Use more than watercress as the leaves are smaller.

Turnip Greens

Kohlrabi turnip plant growing in the garden.

Why it works: When used raw, Turnip leaves offer bitterness and a leafy texture similar to watercress.

Example dishes: Salads, sandwiches, slaws

Measurement: Chopped turnip greens can be used in equal amounts to watercress.

Mustard Greens

mustard greens.

Why it works: These spicy green leaves have a pronounced peppery flavor like watercress.

Example dishes: Soups, stews, sautés

Measurement: Use about 3/4 the amount of watercress as mustard greens are more robust.

Beet Greens

beet greens.

Why it works: Beet leaves taste similar to watercress with an earthy, slightly sour flavor. The leaves look very comparable as well.

Example dishes: Salads, sautés, soups

Measurement: Chopped beet greens can sub 1:1 for watercress.

Collard Greens

collard greens.

Why it works: Collard greens have a bitter taste and bite like watercress. Blanch quickly to retain texture.

Example dishes: Salads, sandwiches, side dishes

Measurement: Use about 3/4 the amount of collards as watercress.

Radish Sprouts

bunches of radishes.

Why it works: Radish sprouts offer a robust and peppery taste akin to watercress, perfect for adding a kick.

Example dishes: Sandwiches, salads, garnish.

Measurement: Sprinkle radish sprouts generously over dishes for a spicy touch.

Common Culinary Uses of Watercress

Here are some classic ways watercress is used, along with the best substitutes:

  • Salads – Add peppery excitement and nutrition. Watercress substitutes: Arugula, dandelion greens, endive, frisée , radish sprouts
  • Sandwiches and burgers – This creates a fresh, tasty layer. Substitute for watercress: Arugula, land cress, garden cress, cabbage.
  • Soups – Blends into a vibrant puree. Substitute for watercress: Kale, dandelion green, mustard greens, tatsoi
  • Pesto – Provides a unique basil-free flavor, like in this one. Substitute: Arugula, rocket
  • Sautéed side dishes – Quick cooking retains crisp-tender texture. Substitute: Tatsoi, kale, beet greens
  • Omelets and scrambled eggs – Adds flavor and color to egg dishes. Substitute: Endive, arugula, frisée
  • Salmon topping – Bright contrast to rich fish. Substitute: Arugula, nasturtium
  • Fish tacos – Gives cool crunch to warm tacos. Substitute: Cabbage, kale
  • Juices and smoothies – Provides nutrients and a peppery kick. Substitute: Kale, cabbage
  • Pickling – Holds up well to briny flavors. Substitute: Mustard greens, kale
  • Garnishes – Elegant finishing touch for refined dishes. Substitute: Garden cress, frisée, nasturtium
  • Compound butter – Whips into an easy-flavored butter. Substitute: Arugula, rocket
  • Quiches – Contrasts nicely with custardy filling. Substitute: Radicchio, dandelion greens
  • Pizzas – Scattered leaves add earthy flavor before baking. Substitute: Arugula, radicchio
  • Green goddess dressing – Essential ingredient in this creamy dressing. Substitute: Arugula, kale
  • Herb salad – It holds its own among other fresh herbs. Substitute: Garden cress, arugula
  • Spring rolls – Crunchy component of fresh rolls. Substitute: Cabbage, lettuce
  • Quinoa tabbouleh – Provides color and crunch to “bulgur”-free tabbouleh. Substitute: Arugula, kale

Super Helpful Tips When Using Substitutes for Watercress

Follow these tips to seamlessly sub in alternatives:

  • Add greens raw to salads, sandwiches, and dressings to retain crunch.
  • Massage raw leaves like kale to soften the texture before adding them to dishes.
  • Chop or tear leaves into bite-size pieces for easier eating.
  • Use gentle heat like steaming or sautéing to soften firmer greens.
  • Finish with a splash of lemon to brighten flavors, especially for heartier greens.

Can I use spinach instead of watercress?

No, spinach has a milder flavor than the peppery bite of watercress. There are better substitutes for watercress than Spinach, though.

Can I substitute rocket for watercress?

Yes, rocket (arugula or rucola) has dark leaves and a peppery bite, just like watercress. It makes a seamless substitution.

Is a watercress plant the same as water leaf?

No, watercress and water leaf come from different plant species. Waterleaf has lighter green leaves without the bite of watercress.

Can I eat watercress every day?

Yes, eating watercress daily is very healthy! It contains antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Eat it raw in salads or sandwiches.

Who cannot eat watercress?

People with an allergy to mustard should avoid watercress. Also, pregnant women should not eat watercress in large amounts due to a bacteria risk.

Is watercress like lettuce?

No. Watercress salad has a much stronger, peppery taste than mild lettuce. It also has a different leaf shape.

How do you eat watercress?

Watercress can be eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, dips, and garnishes. It also works well cooked into soups, sautés, stir-fries, omelets and more.

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