A brief history of lettuce
Lettuce, also known as Lactuca sativa, is undoubtedly the world’s most popular salad plant. Its origin dates back to the ancient Middle East, where the god of fertility – murals of Min – cultivated its seeds around 2700 B.C. The fresh, green plant that features a thick stem and milky sap used to have sexual connotations in ancient times. This is the reason why Min used to consume lettuce as a holy food for improving his sexual drive.
Initially, this fresh vegetable was wild and bitter in taste. The Egyptians started growing their own lettuce in a way that became more palatable. The types of lettuce they grew had separate leaves rather than heads. Plus, they were tall and erect in shape. The historic natives of Egypt not only consumed the leafy lettuce but they also utilized its wild seeds. Other than cooking purposes, the seeds were normally used for medicines and mummification.
The knowledge regarding the benefits of lettuce and how this useful plant can be cultivated in one’s own garden has been passed down to Romans by the Greeks. Just like the Greeks, the Romans made the most of the medicinal properties of lettuce. Every household ensured that they consume lettuce prior to their meal.
They believed that doing so will help stimulate their digestion and improve their sleep quality after meals. Romans further improved the taste of lettuce by using it on the basis of its flavor. For instance, fresh and delicate leaves were served in salads while the tough, slightly bitter ones were properly cooked before they were served with oil and vinegar.
From Rome, this seasonal vegetable traveled to China during the 5th century. Soon enough, the Chinese developed a liking for these thick, luscious leaves and in no time, lettuce was being used as a fundamental food ingredient. At the beginning of the 15th century, Europe, Asia, and Africa were introduced to loose-headed lettuces. All the credit goes to Christopher Columbus who brought along lettuce seeds back to his home country from one of his voyages
By the 15th century, different varieties of lettuce were being cultivated in different parts of the world. Lettuce grows like a weed and just like the weed, it is really interesting to know all about its different types so that you can buy them ASAP and make your dishes more delectable.
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Also known as “rocket”, arugula comprises dark green leaves that have a peppery taste to it. Arugula often comes in long, spiky shape but it also common to come across shorter and more rounded ones. However, both these kinds possess the same dark green shade.
Arugula works well when mixed with tangy flavors like lemon, garlic, or vinegar, or strong flavors like blue cheese. The next time you make a dish that consists of one or all of these pleasant ingredients then don’t forget to kick it up a notch with the addition of arugula.
2. Belgian Endive
While this type of lettuce features tight, compact heads, it is full of crunch and flavor. This is why endive is a must-have ingredient in salads; one bite of it and you will take endless pleasure in its solid crunch and twist.
Mind you, Belgian endive is a tad bit bitter so make sure that you combine it with other greens or tasty flavors to tone down its bold flavor.
Commonly known as cabbage or round lettuce, this prized lettuce is utterly mild, crispy, and tender. Due to its smooth texture, this variety of lettuce is named “butterhead”.
Its loose “heads” have remarkable cupped leaves and have a sweet and succulent flavor that helps intensify the splendor of salad dressing. Besides salads, butterheads can be used in other delicious food items such as pasta, burgers, and sandwiches.
There is a reason why kale is famed as “the queen of greens”. And that’s because of the fact that the dark green leafy lettuce is a nutritional powerhouse. While the leaves of kale are normal and delicate, they can do wonders for your health.
From aiding in digestion to eliminating inflammation from your body to providing cardiovascular support, the miraculous green is an essential vegetable. It is also packed with iron, calcium, powerful antioxidants, and vitamins like vitamin A, C, K.
Belonging to the family of Amaranthaceae, spinach is an edible plant that is native to central and western Asia. It wouldn’t be wrong to claim it as a superfood, given that it is abundant with nutrition such as protein, minerals, vitamins, and calcium.
The high nutritional profile of spinach makes it one of the best greens for bones, skin, hair, and nails. The addition of spinach in your daily diet will help manage diabetes, lower your blood pressure, prevent cancer and asthma, and promote proper digestion.
Some of the regular dishes that would taste more scrumptious with spinach include casserole, pasta, and soup.
The loose-leafed greens A.K.A collard greens belong to Acephala – a Greek word for “without a head” – group. For your information, this group features other types of healthy vegetables as well such as broccoli, kale, turnips, and cabbage.
This leafy green vegetable is a popular food ingredient in most parts of the world but especially in the Southern U.S. Before cooking these palatable greens, it is necessary to wash them thoroughly as they may carry grits with them. Collard greens come with thick, inedible stems that need to be cut before you use them for cooking purposes.
7. Chrysanthemum Greens
Whether you steam them or boil them, these beautiful greens always maintain their herby flavor. These types of greens are a great addition to salads, sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, and all kinds of soups. People tend to overcook chrysanthemum and as a result, the delicate greens lose their distinct flavor.
So it is ideal to cook chrysanthemum for only 30 seconds. Otherwise, this type of lettuce ends up turning mushy and slimy.
Did you know that the Japanese love to pair chrysanthemum greens with a saucy sesame dressing? This unique dish gives a punch of flavor of both nuts and vegetables.
8. Dandelion Greens
Just like Spanish, dandelion greens are eaten both raw and cooked. Some like its sharp, bitter taste which is why they prefer to consume it raw while those with a simpler taste palate can cook them with other sweet ingredients to balance out the overall flavor.
These greens are rich in iron, calcium, proteins, and minerals. What’s more, is that it is loaded with antioxidants that facilitate the absorption of iron.
If your aim is to cleanse your body, make yourself a glass of nourishing dandelion green smoothie, and achieve your dream goal right away.
Frisee (pronounced as “free-zay”) is one of the varieties of endive. Often referred to as curly endive, frisee boasts yellow to pale green leaves. Like most types of lettuce, frisee is commonly used in salads, specifically sweet dressings that give its bitter flavor the right balance.
Growing your own frisee is quite easy if you can spare 5 feet of your garden space for it. This will be enough for a row of frisee to rise, yielding up to 7 heads. For a summer harvest, make sure to plant frisee in spring and again, in the fall season for winter produce.
10. Lambs’ Lettuce
Lambs’ lettuce, also known as mache or corn salad, comes with a lovely appearance and texture. Corn salads are always available in groups of 5 or 6 at the roots. As compared to other types of lettuce, mache has more body and combines well with any vegetable.
Its delicate texture requires additional care while cleaning. Otherwise, the exquisite-looking lambs’ lettuce can snap into pieces. Just a few squishes are all that is needed to clean the lettuce. Chefs and
home cooks, all over the world, prefer to use lambs’ lettuce with sherry and minced shallot vinaigrette as it helps bring out the real flavor of this veggie.
Watercress, with a botanical name – Nasturtium officinale, is quite an overlooked variety of lettuce that promises numerous health benefits. Although it is small in size, it offers impressive advantages.
Watercress, like many other types of lettuce, is packed with excellent nutrients. Studies show that this peppery green vegetable is full of vitamin K. In addition to vitamin K, this nutrient-dense vegetable also contains protein, fat, fiber, calcium, as well as vitamin A, and C.
Research shows that watercress contains certain compounds that lower the risk of developing breast cancer. The beneficial nutrients in this vegetable are great for one’s heart’s health as it is full of antioxidants like carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
This superstar green goes by many names – Japanese mustard greens, spider mustard, water greens, and Kyona; its scientific name is Brassica juncea var. japonica.
Mizuna is a type of mustard green that shares ties with the members of Brassica family such as cauliflower, broccoli, mustard, turnip, and rutabaga. You can find this highly-nutritious veggie in a variety of forms; its top 16 forms are recognized as “Purple Mizuna”, “Kyona Mizuna”, “Early Mizuna” etc.
Mizuna is often combined with other greens to enhance the overall flavor. Traditionally, it serves as a great topping for pizzas, pasta, soups, and stews.
13. Oak Leaf Lettuce
As with mizuna lettuce, oak leaf lettuce is available in many varieties; each variety comes in a different color ranging from green to red to bronze. What they all share is loose leaves that are attached together at the base.
This versatile lettuce works well with all kinds of dressings and is a must-have veggie in salads. The leaves of oak leaf lettuce can grow in both small and large sizes. You can use the whole head if you are working with small heads. On the other hand, if there are larger leaves attached, you can tear them into tiny pieces.
It is, indeed, flavorsome in its taste and can be cultivated throughout the year. If you are planning to grow your own oak leaf lettuce, then plant its seeds in your vegetable patch, a garden box, or your terrace. Regardless of where you plant it, don’t forget to water it daily.
This herbaceous vegetable may prove to be more beneficial than fish. How? Well, research shows that purslane consists of more omega-3 fatty acids than fish. If you are a vegetarian, then it is great news for you, right?
The daily consumption of dark-green leaves will provide you with many other health benefits. For instance, purslane is an amazing source of vitamin A, C, and B-complex like riboflavin, pyridoxine, and niacin. It is also full of dietary minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Americans termed the long-leaf lettuce “Romaine” which is also known as “cos” or “cos lettuce”. It is believed that this type of lettuce was first harvested on the Greek Island of Cos which pretty much explains why it has been named “cos”.
This flowering plant only takes 70 to 75 days to mature and isn’t difficult to maintain. Hence, you can easily grow your own romaine in your garden. The regular use of romaine would prove to be nothing but great since this hearty lettuce is higher in water content and lower in calories.
A staple in North American cuisines, tatsoi is an Asian variety of Brassica rapa. “Tatsoi” is a Mandarin term that means “Chinese flat cabbage”. Some of the other names by which tatsoi goes by are “rosette pakchoi”, “broadbeaked mustard”, “spinach mustard”, “spoon mustard”, and “tat choy”.
The glossy, emerald greens are a rich source of folate, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, C, and K. But that’s not the only amazing quality about tatsoi. This culinary ingredient is also quite versatile as it can be eaten raw, sautéed, braised, steamed, or whichever way you prefer.
17. Bok Choi
Often referred to as white cabbage, bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage that comes in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and tastes. Don’t get confused if you see it spelled out as pak choi, bok choi, or pak choy, because it can be written in all these ways.
The Chinese happen to be the first ones to use this type of lettuce as history tells us that they have been cultivating this delectable veggie for over 5000 years.
Radicchio is a staple in Italian cooking which explains why this red beauty is often called “Italian chicory”.
This vividly red cabbage is packed with great flavors and a chewy texture. You can also enjoy it in plenty of ways either by adding it in salads/pasta/soups/stews or grilling it on a smoker.
All the types of lettuce that we discussed above are wonderful in their own unique way. Buy them today to reap their endless benefits!
Lettuce Types Chart