Originally from the Mediterranean region, lettuce has always been a popular vegetable.
There are many lettuce varieties, with availability changing often. 'Head' lettuces - firm, tightly packed heads with a central core or heart and crisp leaves. Leafy lettuces - some have a small heart, such as buttercrunch, some do not and their leaves can be picked individually. Leafy lettuce has a soft texture and loose leaves. Other greens - such as endive, frisee and salad greens.
Varieties of lettuce
This is sometimes called normal, crisphead or standard lettuce. The heads are firm and tightly packed with a central core or heart. The leaves are crunchy and have a mild flavour. The outer leaves are a darker green; the central leaves are pale green. The leaves are cupped, hold their shape and can be used to hold fillings. Frillice is a similar lettuce variety; it is characterised by its deep green colour and leaves that are very frilled at the edges.
A cross between iceberg and a cos lettuce, it has boat-shaped leaves and the taste of iceberg with a hint of Christmas green peas. Its crunchy texture is suited to salads. This lettuce holds its shape when heated making it possible to serve the cupped leaves filled with hot foods. They are also a good wrapping leaf.
Butterhead or buttercrunch
This is a green lettuce with loose leaves. It has a soft texture and flat smooth succulent leaves which have a delicate buttery feel and flavour. Some varieties have heart-shaped leaves while others are more rounded. Red buttercrunch or red butterhead are also available.
Red oak and green oak
These are loose leaf sweet-tasting lettuces and have no heart. They have a soft green-red or red leaf which can be picked separately as these lettuces are often sold with intact roots.
Green coral and red coral
These lettuces have attractive crinkly leaves that stand up on a plate. They have a sharp, slightly bitter flavour. The depth of red or green colour depends on the variety and the season. The leaves can be picked separately as these lettuces are often sold with intact roots.
This is a winter lettuce also known as romaine. It has an elongated head with coarse leaves that are crunchy and sharp in flavour. This lettuce is a key ingredient of Caesar salad.
Baby cos varieties are sometimes available.
Endive is often classed as a lettuce but is from the celery family. There are two main types, curly endive and fine leaf. It is sometimes called frisee. The leaves have a slightly bitter flavour.
Lamb's lettuce (corn salad, mache)
Lamb's lettuce is very succulent with a delicate flavour and smoothly textured green leaves.
Besides lettuce there is a vast array of other leaves, often loosely termed ‘salad greens’. See salad greens.
What to look for
Choose lettuces with clean, crisp leaves.
Refrigerate in plastic bags or store in the crisper. Avoid squashing the lettuce. Alternatively, if the lettuce roots are still attached, stand the lettuce in a jar with the roots in water, and do not refrigerate.
Ways to eat
Lettuce is used raw in salads, sandwiches and rolls. Use several varieties of lettuce together to increase interest. Lettuce leaves may also be used as wraps. Older leaves can be used in soups.
|LETTUCE - Hydroponic varieties|
|Serving size: ½ cup torn - 18g|
|Fat, total (g)||0.05||0%||0.3|
|- saturated (g)||trace||0%||0.1|
|- sugars (g)||0.3||0.3%||1.7|
|Dietary fibre (g)||0.3||1%||1.7|
|Folate (µg)||10||5% RDI*||55|
|Vitamin A Equiv. (µg)||16||2% RDI*||89|
|Iron (mg)||0.18||1% RDI*||1|
Percentage Daily Intakes are based on an average adult diet of 8700 kJ
Source: The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 10th Edition, Plant & Food Research - 2014
While lettuce contains mainly water (95%) this is an advantage in providing hydration and as a low energy food. Darker leafy lettuces provide a range of nutrients including smaller contributions of vitamin C, iron and folate.
Some of the newer varieties such as red oak and butter crunch are more strongly coloured than the traditional varieties (iceberg), and the pigments (phytonutrients) that give them the colour have a range of potential health benefits. Most lettuce contains the pigments beta-carotene and lutein while the red coloured lettuces get their colour from anthocyanins.
Lettuces are highly perishable, therefore buy small quantities regularly and maintain good stock rotation principles. Use hydroponic systems or refrigerated shelving for display. Loose lettuce mixes are becoming very popular. For non-hydroponic lettuces, trim stems and wash before displaying on shelf, and display with stem facing upward. Keep display moist. Use the QR code on labels.
Store at 2-5°C with a relative humidity of 95%. The optimum storage temperature is 0°C, but because of the risk of the product freezing a slightly higher temperature is recommended. Lettuces are ethylene sensitive so store separately from ethylene producing fruits and vegetables.
Purchase lettuces with the New Zealand GAP logo.
For these images and many more please visit our image library.