A Quick Lettuce Lesson

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lettuceLettuce tends to be one of those overlooked vegetables. Most people tend to favor iceberg lettuce – the basic leafy part of every salad – and grow it exclusively in their backyard gardens. However, there are many more varieties that are just as easy to grow. Each has its own unique taste, and can add a new dimension to your salads, burgers, and other things.

Lettuce is an annual plant, meaning that it needs to be grown from scratch every year. Although some types of lettuce can survive cooler fall and winter weather (depending on your climate, of course), most varieties of it need to be planted and harvested while the weather is still warm. However, that weather can’t be too warm, as many types of lettuce are picky about heat and humidity. Despite this, it still is one of the easiest vegetables to care for as it grows to a good size. There are a number of different types of lettuce, each of which falls into one of these popular cultivars: butterhead, leaf, romaine, summercrisp, and crisphead.

Here is a quick breakdown of five of these types of lettuce, iceberg included:

Boston Lettuce: Boston lettuce falls into the butterhead cultivar. It grows in a “head” shape, like iceberg lettuce does, but it tends to be smaller. The leaves have a smooth buttery feel to them, and the taste of this vegetable follows suit. When perfectly ripe, it is both tender and sweet, and makes a perfect addition to a tossed salad.

Leaf Lettuce: Leaf lettuce does not grow into a nice, tidy head of lettuce like Boston and iceberg lettuces do. Instead, it grows in a bunch with a stem at the bottom holding it all together. Leaf lettuce comes in two different colors – bright green, and a reddish purple that is usually just called “red” or “red oak.” Either way, this lettuce is both sweet and crisp, making it an excellent addition to your salad – and your garden.

Batavian Lettuce: Batavian lettuce falls into the category of summercrisp varietals. It is fairly heat tolerant, and, like leaf lettuce, comes in a number of colors, ranging from deep green to “red,” which is almost purple. The leaves are a bit thicker than they are on other types of lettuce, and they have an almost nutty flavor.

Romaine Lettuce: Romaine lettuce is a bit of an anomaly among its fellow lettuces, since it is much more tolerant to summer heat than the other varieties. This makes romaine lettuce a very good plant for your garden, particularly if you are in an area of the country that has to deal with hot weather all summer long. Romaine can be used in garden salads, but its slight bitterness makes it a better choice for Caesar salads, where it complements the dressing and other components better.

Iceberg Lettuce: Iceberg is a type of crisphead lettuce. It differs from Boston lettuce both by its size and its color. Individual heads of iceberg lettuce tend to be larger in size and lighter in color. The texture is different as well, since iceberg is crisper and less buttery than its butterhead counterpart.

Pic by Dwight Sipler