The crunch in your burger and the crispiness in your salad, it is the lettuce which lends its incredible texture to such dishes and more. Also called salad crops, lettuce belongs to the family of Asteraceae. It has a lot of nutrients such as chlorophyll and vitamin K. It contains therapeutic values and hence finds itself in demand these days. It is cultivated for its leaves among which loose leaves are regarded as most beneficial to health as they are high in iron and vitamin A and C. While the Greeks began its cultivation it is now China heads the list of lettuce cultivators.
Boasting in different colours from soft green to deep red, today’s markets offer many varieties of lettuce such as Iceberg, Romaine, Butterhead, French Crisp, and more. They differ in shape and taste too. They are easy to grow, so if you have a green thumb harvesting lettuce would be a great idea.
It is the most popular variety and perhaps the one that opened up the channels in India for other salad leaves to follow. The refreshing iceberg lettuce looks like a small-size cabbage. It is tightly packed, curled, watery, and crunchy with firm leaves and a mild pleasant flavour. Rich in vitamin C it is known to help boost your WBC. It also contains vitamin A which helps in keeping the eyes healthy and the heart to be in a tip-top beating condition. This lettuce helps in losing weight and manages diabetes. The folic acid makes it a worthy nutrient for moms-to-be. It is also called crisphead.
Iceberg lettuce is generally used in salads and to garnish foods but there are several uses including some ethnic cuisine and fried sandwiches, tacos, and such.
Always look for a firm head without slime or discolouration. Go for the refrigerated section where the lettuce is being chilled to prevent it from wilting.
Every Ceasar’s salad worth its name has Romaine lettuce. Its long, dark, sturdy leaves with a firm beam in the centre to the tip give it its unique look. It also has a thick beam or rib on the outside of the leaves which gives this lettuce its distinct hint of bitter-herby taste. Its green leaves have a coarse feel and are heat tolerant. There is also a milder tasting variety with red-tipped leaves which is even sweeter than regular romaine. Overall, this lettuce is a delicate taste. Romaine delivers folate, potassium, and beta carotene and contains a significant amount of water. It contains good amounts of fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
While selecting romaine lettuce avoid oversized heads with any signs of rust or hardened large milky back stem. Choose heads that are cut close to leaf stems and leave those that are decaying or browning.
Looseleaf lettuce is a variety of lettuces that does not have a compact head. It is the easiest lettuces to grow in your backyard. Their flavour tends to be mildly sweet. Just like romaine lettuce, looseleaf lettuce is rich in Vitamin A, potassium, and folate. It also contains a moderate amount of Vitamin C and calcium. It is low in calories as well as sodium. It is also known as leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, or red leaf lettuce, it feels tender despite its crunchy stem. Their uneven surfaces add layers of texture to salads.
Though it has a short cultivating season, loose leaf lettuce is grown throughout the spring till summer and a little after. The leaves can grow up to a maximum size of about 8 inches. The lettuce is known to be cold resistant. Looseleaf lettuce is large so it is best to tear them up into bite-size pieces for the salad and lettuce wraps. They are also great in soup.
Give a burst of colour to your salad and wraps with this type of lettuce. It has an impressive nutrient profile as it is packed with vitamins (vitamin C, K) and minerals (iron), and it is low on calories. As it is high in water it gives you a feeling of fullness. This is great for weight watchers. Red leaf lettuce is also a great source of antioxidants (anthocyanins) and beta carotene. It is no wonder that it builds your immunity and maintains healthy eyes. It is great to maintain heart health too. It is easy to add to your diet plan as it is to buy.
Though arugula is used in salad mixes, it is actually a member of the cabbage and mustard green family. It has a strong aroma, spicy, peppery, and slightly tarty to taste. Arugula contains glucosinolates which give these leaves their bitter taste. Arugula is rich in antioxidants and could protect you against certain cancers. Arugula can be found all year long. This salad green is a cruciferous plant and can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Eaten raw arugula could provide more of the healthy isothiocyanates than eating it cooked. However, sautéed arugula will help the body to absorb more nutrients and carotenoids.
If you want to grow your arugula, click here for the seeds.
Though there are many varieties, these are commonly found in India. So order them, enjoy them, and reap their benefits!