Nearly 2/3rds of all lettuce we eat is iceberg. Unfortunately, iceberg has far fewer nutrients than any other lettuce type. For example, romaine has 2x the fiber, 17x the vitamin A, 8x the vitamin C, 4x the vitamin K, and 5x the folate of iceberg lettuce! With numerous lettuces available in your produce department that are more flavorful and nourishing than iceberg, I think it’s time we start changing our lettuce habits.
Lettuce and salad greens are often used interchangeably because they are eaten in a similar way. While lettuce is a type of salad green, there are many greens, including arugula, cabbage, dandelion, kale, and spinach, that are not lettuce. In general, lettuce is generally tenderer, with a milder flavor than most other salad greens. While all salad greens are great additions to your diet, the following is a description of common lettuces you’ll find in your grocery store and how to start using them.
- Butter/Boston – Butterhead lettuces are one of the more tender varieties available and come in small heads. They lack the stiff center rib of many other lettuces which gives them a smooth texture…smooth as, well, butter.
HOW TO USE: Butter lettuce is often used in lettuce wraps because the leaves are pliable and easy to roll. It also makes a great addition to salads or other dishes when you don’t want the texture of the lettuce to detract.
CAUTION: butterhead have a mildly sweet flavor that can work well to compliment your dish or can detract when a bitterer flavor is needed.
- Red & Green Leaf Lettuce – The nutrition and flavor of red and green lettuce are very similar. The mature leaves have a crunchy stem with soft, delicate leaves. The leaves are wavy and can contribute a unique texture to a dish.
HOW TO USE: Chopped, leaf lettuce has a unique texture that makes it a great choice for salads and wraps. It also has a mild flavor that works for both sweet and savory dishes. While it works on sandwiches, the difference in texture between the stem and leaf can be a turnoff for some.
CAUTION: Some claim that red lettuce is more prone to spoilage but the aesthetic appeal of the color may be worth the slightly reduced lifespan.
- Romaine – Romaine has a crunchy texture throughout the leaf. It will last the longest of any lettuce (besides iceberg) in your fridge so don’t be afraid to buy this lettuce in bulk.
HOW TO USE: Romaine is commonly used in Caesar salads but works well anytime a crunchy texture is desired. Due to its hardy nature, romaine is one of the few lettuces that can be cooked with good results. Try roasting entire heads or stir-frying the torn leaves.
CAUTION: When all excess water is removed, chopped romaine can last for a week or longer in the fridge without going brown or losing its crunch. Tearing, rather than cutting, causes less damage to the leaves and can prolong its life even more!
- Spring mix – Incorporating a balance of mild and bold flavors as well as a variety of colors and textures, spring mix is one of the most popular mixes. Spring mix contains lettuces and greens, both of which are immature, making them tenderer than their mature varieties but just as nutritious.
HOW TO USE: Found in ready to wash containers, these are an easy base for salads, great to throw on sandwiches, or can be chopped and mixed with pastas or grains. The greens impart a bold and often peppery flavor when used in a dish.
CAUTION: Due to their tender nature, the lettuces and greens in spring mix won’t hold up in your fridge or under high heat cooking as well as other prewashed mixes, lettuces, and greens.
Whether using butterhead for its smooth texture, red or green leaf for their wavy but delicate leaves, romaine for its crunch, or spring mix for its ease and bold flavor, substituting these for iceberg will provide a more nourishing and satisfying meal.