Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) vegetable is widely popular throughout the world and is readily available in supermarkets year round with hundreds of varieties to choose from. Iceberg used to dominate the selections but other varieties are now moving to the forefront. Most domestic varieties are from California and imported lettuce typically arrives from Europe.
The lettuce that we see today, actually started out as a weed around the Mediterranean basin. Served in dishes for more than 4500 years, lettuce has certainly made its mark in history with tomb painting in Egypt and identification of different types of lettuces by various Greek scholars. Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to the new world and from there, lettuce in the United States began cultivating.
Most dark greens are good sources of Vitamin C and other nutrients.The rule of thumb is, usually, the darker the greens, the more nutritious the leaf.
There are four main types of lettuce and under each type there are different varieties.
|Butterhead (includes Boston and Bibb)
Loose heads, grassy green leaves, butter texture, mild flavor. Good examples are Boston lettuce, which looks like a blooming rose, and Bibb lettuce that has a small cup-shaped appearance.
The least nutritious of the salad greens, this pale green lettuce takes on the cabbage appearance with its leaves more tightly packed together. An example is the Iceberg lettuce. It’s known for the crispy texture and very mild flavor.
This variety doesn’t grow to form lettuce heads, but is instead the leaves are joined at the stem. Good examples of this variety include: oak leaf, red leaf, and green leaf.
|Romaine or Cos
This lettuce has gained tremendous popularity in the past decade as the key ingredient in Caesar salads. It has a loaf-like shape with darker outer leaves. It’s strong taste and crispy texture has been favored by those who like Iceberg lettuce.
Lettuce is a delicate vegetable and great care should be taken when selecting and storing. Most lettuce is showcased on ice or in refrigeration. When selecting your leaves, be sure that they are fresh and crisp, with no signs of wilting, slim, or dark spots or edges. Remember when selecting your lettuce that the darker outer leaves are the most nutritious.
Lettuce tends to keep well in plastic bags in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Iceberg lettuce keeps the best, lasting around two weeks, while Romaine, ten days, and butterheads types and endives lasts approximately four days. The very delicate greens don’t last very long, so it’s best to buy only as much as you need at one time and use immediately.
Salad greens should not be stored near fruits that produce ethylene gases (like apples) as this will increase brown spots on the lettuce leaves and increase spoilage. Greens that are bought in bunches should be checked for insects. Those leaves that have roots should be placed in a glass of water with a bag over the leaves and then placed in the refrigerator.
Generally lettuce is eaten raw, so consider removing any browned, slimy, or wilted leaves. For all lettuce types, you should thoroughly wash and ‘dry’ the leaves to remove any dirt or lingering insects. If you eat lettuce often, it’s wise to invest in a salad spinner. Simply rinse the leaves and place in the spinner to remove the excess water.
In addition to their most common use in salads, you can also braise, steam, sautè and even grill certain lettuce varieties to create a wonderful and different taste treat. Try halving a head of radicchio or romaine lengthwise, and brush on some extra virgin olive oil, and grill until they soften and just begin to brown-absolutely delicious.
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|Lettuce (Romain, Shredded)|
|Serving Size 1 cup chopped, raw (56g)
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.