What You Need to Know About Lettuce

What is Lettuce?

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual plant of the family Asteraceae. It is most often grown for its leafy greens, but it can also be harvested for its stem and seeds. Lettuce leaves are most commonly used in salads, although the vegetable can also be found in soups, sandwiches, and wraps; it can even be grilled. Celtuce, a variety of asparagus lettuce, is grown for its stems which can be eaten raw or cooked. With human consumption dating back centuries, this leafy green has also collected religious and medicinal meaning. Lettuce and chicory used to be mostly grown in Europe and North America, but now people all over the world eat them. In 2017, the world produced 27 million tonnes of lettuce and chicory. Out of that, 56% came from China.

Lettuce was originally farmed by the ancient Egyptians. They turned it from a plant whose seeds were used to get oil into a crop that people ate for its leaves and for the oil in its seeds. Lettuce spread to the Greeks and Romans; the latter gave it the name Lactuca, from which the English lettuce is derived. By 50 AD, many types were described, and lettuce appeared often in medieval writings, including several herbals. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, European gardens saw the development of many new varieties of plants. By the mid-18th century, there were cultivars being described that can still be found in gardens today.

Usually grown as a tough annual, lettuce is easy to cultivate and grows best in colder temperatures. Numerous nutrient deficiencies, insect and mammal pests, and fungal and bacterial diseases can attack it. L. sativa can easily cross-breed with other plants within the Lactuca genus. This trait can be a problem for home gardeners who save seeds. However, biologists use this trait to create new varieties of lettuce.

Lettuce is a good source of vitamins K and A, as well as folate and iron. However, lettuce can sometimes contain harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites that can make people sick. Some examples of these are E. coli and Salmonella.

What is the history of Lettuce? Where did it come from?

1. Lettuce is a cool-weather crop that is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region. 

2. Lettuce was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, who used it as a decoration on their tombs and temples. 

3. The ancient Greeks and Romans also grew lettuce, and it became a popular ingredient in salads and other dishes. 

4. Lettuce was introduced to North America by European settlers in the 1600s. 

5. Today, lettuce is grown in many parts of the world, including the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

6. There are many different types of lettuce, including iceberg, Romaine, butterhead, and leaf lettuce. 

7. Lettuce is a low-calorie food that is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. 

8. Lettuce is often consumed raw in salads or sandwiches, but it can also be cooked or used as a wrap or taco shells

Lettuce Blossom

How is Lettuce grown?

Lettuce is a cool-season crop that is grown from seed to harvest in about 45 days. Lettuce can be direct-seeded or transplanted. It prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade. Soil should be fertile, well-drained, and moist. Lettuce does not tolerate hot temperatures and will bolt (go to seed) if exposed to excessive heat. Lettuce can be grown in rows or in blocks for cut-and-come-again harvests. It should be watered regularly and fertilized with a balanced fertilizer. Pest control may include the use of row covers, hand-picking pests, and natural predators such as ladybugs. Lettuce can be harvested by either cutting the entire head or plucking individual outer leaves for a cut-and-come-again harvest. It is best to harvest lettuce in the morning when it is cool and crisp. Proper storage and handling of lettuce will ensure its freshness and longevity.

Varieties of Lettuce

1. Butterhead

Butterhead lettuce is a type of lettuce that includes varieties such as Boston lettuce and Bibb lettuce. Butterhead lettuce has soft, loose leaves that are arranged in a rosette shape. The leaves are typically light green or white in color and have a mild, buttery flavor.

2. Crisphead

Crisphead lettuce is a type of lettuce that includes varieties such as iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce. Crisphead lettuce has tight, crisp leaves that are arranged in a compact head. The leaves are typically deep green or pale green in color and have a crisp, crunchy texture.

3. Looseleaf

Looseleaf lettuce is a type of lettuce that includes varieties such as green leaf lettuce and red leaf lettuce. Looseleaf lettuce has soft, loose leaves that are arranged in a loosely packed bunch. The leaves are typically dark green or red in color and have a slightly bitter flavor.

4. Romaine

Romaine lettuce is a type of crisphead lettuce that includes varieties such as Cosmopolitan lettuce and Parris Island Cos lettuces. Romaine lettuces have long, narrow leaves that are arranged in a compact head. The leaves are typically deep green or pale green in color and have a crisp, crunchy texture.

5. Iceberg

Iceberg lettuce is a type of crisphead lettuce that includes varieties such as Great Lakes Lettuce and Salinas Lettuce. Iceberg lettuces have large, round leaves that are arranged in a compact head. The leaves are typically pale green or white in color and have a crisp, crunchy texture.

6. Escarole

Escarole is a type of looseleaf lettuce that includes the variety known as Batavian endive. Escarole has broad, dark green leaves that are arranged in a loosely packed bunch. The leaves have a slightly bitter flavor and can be used in salads or cooked as greens.

7. Oakleaf

Oakleaf lettuce is a type of looseleaf lettuce that includes the variety known as deer tongue lettuce. Oakleaf lettuces have long, narrow leaves that are lobed or deeply notched at the edges, giving them an appearance similar to oak leaves. The leaves are typically dark green or red in color and have a slightly bitter flavor

What are the Claimed Health Benefits of Lettuce

1. Lettuce is a low-calorie food.

One of the primary health benefits of lettuce is that it is a low-calorie food. A 100-gram serving of lettuce contains only about 15 calories, making it an excellent choice for people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

2. Lettuce is a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Lettuce is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. A 100-gram serving of lettuce contains high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

3. Lettuce is high in fiber.

In addition to being low in calories and a good source of vitamins and minerals, lettuce is also high in fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient that helps to promote digestive health and prevent constipation. A 100-gram serving of lettuce contains about 2 grams of fiber.

4. Lettuce may help to protect against cancer.

Some studies have shown that lettuce may help to protect against cancer. For example, one study found that eating lettuce may help to reduce the risk of breast cancer. The study found that the phytochemicals in lettuce may help to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

5. Lettuce may help to improve heart health.

Another potential health benefit of lettuce is that it may help to improve heart health. One study found that eating lettuce may help to reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

6. Lettuce may help to regulate blood sugar levels.

Lettuce may also help to regulate blood sugar levels. One study found that eating lettuce after a meal helped to reduce blood sugar spikes in people with type 2 diabetes. The study found that the fiber in lettuce helped to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

Romaine Lettuce

The Micronutrients and Macronutrients of Lettuce

1. Vitamins

Lettuce is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K. Vitamin A is important for vision and immune function, while vitamin C is an important antioxidant that can help to protect the body against disease. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health.

2. Minerals

Lettuce is also a good source of minerals, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Potassium is important for blood pressure control and heart health, while calcium is important for bone health. Magnesium is involved in energy production and muscle function.

3. Fiber

Lettuce contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can help to lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps to add bulk to the stool, which can aid in bowel regularity.

4. Protein

Lettuce contains small amounts of protein, which are the building blocks of the body. Protein is involved in cell repair and growth, as well as muscle development.

5. Carbohydrates

Lettuce contains carbohydrates, which are the body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is then used by the cells for energy.

6. Fat

Lettuce also contains small amounts of fat, which are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and for the development of healthy cell membranes. Fat is also a source of energy for the body.

7. Water

Lettuce is mostly composed of water, which is essential for the proper function of all systems in the body. Water helps to regulate body temperature, transport nutrients to cells, and remove waste from the body.

Tips on how to select Lettuce

1. Look for crisp, green leaves that are free from brown spots or wilting.

2. Avoid heads of lettuce that have yellowed or flabby leaves.

3. Choose lettuce heads that are heavy for their size.

4. Inspect the stem end of the lettuce head and make sure it is not brown or dried out.

5. If you are buying loose leaves of lettuce, look for ones that are brightly colored and free from brown spots or wilting.

6. Avoid lettuce leaves that are small, dry, or have a bitter flavor.

7. Iceberg lettuce should be tightly packed and have crisp, white leaves.

8. Romaine lettuce should have long, dark green leaves with no sign of browning or wilting.

9. Butterhead lettuce should have soft, buttery-looking leaves with a slightly sweeter flavor than other types of lettuce.

10. Looseleaf lettuce should be tender and have a mild flavor.

11. Curlyleaf lettuce should have crisp, curly leaves with a slightly bitter flavor

Tips on how to store Lettuce

1. Store in a cool, dry place

Lettuce should be stored in a cool, dry place, such as the refrigerator. If you store it in a warm, moist environment, it will quickly spoil.

2. Do not wash before storing

Washing lettuce before you store it will cause it to spoil more quickly. If you need to wash it, do so just before you plan to use it.

3. Place in a plastic bag or container

Place the lettuce in a plastic bag or container with holes in it so that the air can circulate. This will help to keep it fresh for longer.

4. Use within a few days

Ideally, lettuce should be used within a few days of being stored. After that, it will start to lose its flavor and nutrients.

5. Do not freeze

Lettuce should not be frozen as this will cause it to become limp and mushy. If you need to store it for longer than a few days, consider blanching it first.

6. Blanching

Blanching is a process of briefly cooking the lettuce in boiling water, then shock cooling it in ice water. This helps to preserve its flavor and texture.

7. To blanch, fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.

Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add the lettuce and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately place the lettuce in ice water. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, then remove and pat dry with paper towels. Store in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks

 

Iceberg Lettuce Field

Popular recipes made with Lettuce

1. Caesar Salad

Named after its creator, Caesar Cardini, this salad is a staple on Italian restaurant menus. It is made with romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and a dressing made with anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and egg yolks.

2. Cobb Salad

This salad was created by Robert Cobb, the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. It is made with Romaine lettuce, chicken breast, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, blue cheese, and a dressing made with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

3. Greek Salad

This salad is a popular dish in Greece and is made with Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and a dressing made with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

4. Iceberg Wedge Salad

This salad is made with a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese dressing, bacon bits, and diced tomatoes.

5. Kale Salad

This salad is made with kale, cranberries, almonds, Parmesan cheese, and a dressing made with olive oil and lemon juice.

6. Ni├žoise Salad

This salad is a French dish that is traditionally made with Romaine lettuce, tuna fish, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, olives, and a dressing made with olive oil and vinegar.

7. Pear and Pecan Salad

This salad is made with Romaine lettuce, pears, pecans, Gorgonzola cheese, and a dressing made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

8. Potato Salad

This salad is a popular side dish in the United States that is typically made with potatoes, mayonnaise, celery, onions, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs.

9. Spring Mix Salad

This salad is made with a mix of baby greens including Romaine lettuce, arugula, spinach, endive, radicchio, and kale. It is often served with a light vinaigrette dressing.

Interesting, little-known, trivia, and fun facts about Lettuce

1. Lettuce is a member of the Asteraceae family, which also includes daisies, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums.

2. There are more than 2,000 varieties of lettuce that differ in color, texture, and flavor.

3. Lettuce is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region and was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians.

4. The word “lettuce” is derived from the Latin word “lactuca,” which means “milk.” This is likely due to the milky white sap that some varieties of lettuce contain.

5. Lettuce was once used as a treatment for insomnia and was thought to be an effective sedative.

6. Lettuce was also believed to have cooling properties and was often eaten in hot weather to prevent heat stroke.

7. The ancient Romans believed that lettuce could increase one’s sexual desire and potency and it was a common ingredient in love potions.

8. In the Middle Ages, lettuce was known as “the sin-killer” and was thought to absolve one of all transgressions.

9. Lettuce leaves were often used as bandages during the American Civil War as they were thought to speed up the healing process.

10. Lettuce is 97% water, making it one of the most hydrating foods available.

11. Lettuce is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K as well as fiber and potassium

Images from Wikipedia