Culinary Arts

What Is Watercress? Learn What Watercress Looks and Tastes Like, Plus How Watercress Is Used in Cooking

Written by MasterClass

Jul 19, 2019 • 1 min read

Nutrient-packed watercress makes a great garnish, but it can take center stage in salads and stir-fries, too.

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What Is Watercress?

Watercress is an aquatic leafy vegetable that grows in the shallow water of cool streams. Native to Eurasia, this member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family is one of our oldest salad greens: Ancient Romans dressed raw watercress with pepper, cumin, and garum (fermented fish sauce).

It’s also incredibly nutritious, with just one cup of watercress containing 21% of the recommended daily value of vitamin E and 24% of the RDV of vitamin C, as well as significant amounts of vitamins A, B, and K, and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.

What Does Watercress Look and Taste Like?

Watercress has small, dark, rounded leaves and little four-petaled white flowers. Its flavor is refreshing and peppery. You can eat the stems, too, but they can be tough when the plant is mature. While cultivated watercress is available year-round from grocery stores, spicier wild watercress is one of the first signs of spring, disappearing by the summer.

4 Ways to Eat Watercress

Famous as a component of British afternoon tea sandwiches, watercress is good for so much more.

How to Substitute Watercress

If you can’t find watercress, try substituting other leafy greens, like arugula, dandelion, or mustard, which have a similar peppery taste. Or use other types of cress including pungent garden cress or milder upland cress. Let your recipe guide your substitution: use hardier, spicier greens for cooked preparations, and milder, more delicate greens for garnishes, salads, and sandwiches.

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