Knowing about lettuce and the different types can help to improve your culinary skills. First and foremost, most lettuce types are available year-round at your local grocery store. Lettuce is a cool-weather crop, and if you feel so inclined, it is easy to grow yourself. As mentioned and as we will further discuss, there are four main types: crisphead (a.k.a. iceberg), romaine, loose-leaf and butterhead.
In general, all lettuces provide dietary fiber and vitamins A, C and K, and the average lettuce has less than 10 calories per shredded cup. A good rule of thumb is the darker the leaf, the more nutritious the lettuce (thus, crisphead is the least nutritious).
Before You Buy
As convenient as prepackaged greens are, it is best to steer clear of lettuce than has been pre-cut or processed. Because of its large leaf surface, lettuce often retains pesticides so it is highly recommended to buy organic when you can.
Types Of Lettuce
More commonly known as iceberg, and easily the best-known variety thanks to its shrink-wrapped ever-presence at the grocery store. You want to look for a round, compact, pale green head. Its flavor is very mild and is generally eaten raw in salads and on sandwiches, or even shredded in tacos and other dishes. Although it often gets a bad rap, iceberg’s crunchy texture and sturdy leaves are crucial for the classic wedge salad.
Use in: salads with heavy dressings, dishes that call for shredded lettuce, sandwiches, and overnight layered salads.
If you’ve had a proper Caesar salad, you’ve had romaine lettuce, also known as cos lettuce. Romaine lettuce has a long upright head of crisp pale green leaves with crunchy midribs and is more flavorful than some other varieties (especially the lighter leaves toward the center/heart). You can often find romaine hearts packaged at the grocery store. Since it is sturdy, romaine can also hold its own on the grill.
Use in: salads with rich, creamy dressings or spicy, pungent vinaigrettes, or on the grill.
You can tell when you look at it, the name comes from its appearance. Large, open, ruffled leaves grow around a central stalk rather than a compact head. Loose-leaf is commonly available in red and green varieties and is a bit more perishable than head-type lettuces. Because of this, these should be dressed just before serving to avoid wilting. For smaller heads, you can use the leaves as is, but for larger heads, tearing the leaves into bite-size pieces is recommended.
Use in: salads with light-to-medium dressings, baby lettuce mixes, wilted lettuce salads, wraps and sandwiches.
These look like a loose head featuring soft, smooth-textured, red-tinged or pale green leaves that become lighter toward the center. This lettuce should be handled with care as the leaves are tender and bruise easily. The main varieties are Boston and bibb (the latter is smaller and more pricey). It has a mild and sweet flavor.
Use in: lettuce cups and wraps, with light, delicate salad dressings and on sandwiches.
- Crisphead lettuce can be stored unwashed in the crisper drawer of your fridge (just remember to wash it before eating).
- Loose-leaf varieties should be thoroughly washed with clean water and dried before storing. Roll the leaves in several layers of paper towels or a kitchen towel, then seal in a plastic bag and store in the crisper drawer for up to one week.
- Store fresh lettuce away from ethylene-emitting produce (ex. apples, plums, grapes) as ethylene can cause lettuce to wilt.
- Because lettuce has high water content, you should avoid freezing it.