Lettuce varieties come in a multitude of textures, colors and flavor. They are most often served raw along with other vegetables in a salad or in sandwiches or burgers. Lettuce is low in calories and full of antioxidants, water, dietary fiber and essential nutrients. There are many types of lettuce that can add texture and flavor to any dish.
Types of Lettuce
Lettuce is a cool-season plant typically grown in the spring or fall in home gardens. Lettuce is placed in one of four categories: crisphead, butterhead, romaine and loose-leaf.
Known for its crisp texture and tight, cabbage-like head, this variety features a mild flavor and pale green leaves. The most popular lettuce in this category is Iceberg.
Iceberg is a pale, round, tightly packed lettuce with a refreshing flavor. It’s inexpensive, has a long shelf life and will stay crispy for a while after serving. It’s also an excellent source of folate. Iceberg will stay crispy under heavy salad dressings and when served on a big, juicy burger. Try a thick wedge of iceberg drizzled with blue cheese dressing for a no-fuss side dish.
Butterhead lettuces have small, round, loosely formed heads with soft, buttery-textured leaves. The leaves are pale green on the outer leaves and pale yellow-green on the inner leaves. Butterhead lettuce is sweet and succulent. The two main varieties of butterhead lettuce are Boston and Bibb.
The leaves of Boston and Bibb lettuces are, as the name implies, smooth like butter. Bibb is usually sold in a plastic container to protect its delicate leaves. Both varieties work well as a wrap for tuna or chicken salad due to its cupped leaves. Its tender texture works beautifully in salads with a mild dressing.
This lettuce variety has long, deep green leaves that form a loaf-shaped, elongated head. Romaine lettuce is hearty and packed with potassium. It has a crisp texture and a slightly bitter taste. The crispest, most flavorful parts of the romaine are the lighter leaves near the center of the head. Traditionally used in Cesar salad, Romaine pairs well with creamy dressings or dressings that have some richness.
This type of lettuce does not form heads. They consist of large, loosely packed leaves joined at a stem. The leaves can be green or deep red at the edges and may be ruffled or smooth. Their crispness level is between Romaine and Butterhead. They have a mild and delicate flavor. Leaf lettuce is a favorite among gardeners because it's easy to grow. Popular loose-leaf varieties are Red leaf, Green leaf and Oak leaf. Due to their mild and delicate flavor, it’s perfect as a filler or base because it won't compete with other flavors.
Summer Crisp, French Crisp or Batavian
This lettuce is somewhat of a cross between Crisphead and Looseleaf. Summer Crisp has thick, crisp outer leaves which can be harvested as a loose leaf until the head forms. Its flavor is sweet, and its texture is juicy, but crisp. Use as a leaf base to build your salad, or it can be mixed with other types of lettuce in any salad.
Botanically speaking, this group of flavorful greens are not lettuce. They are commonly referred to as salad greens. Although lettuce is a healthy vegetable, these salad greens have much more to offer in vitamins and nutrients, as well as, color, texture and flavor.
Arugula is also known as Rocket and Italian cress. It’s a peppery green that pairs well with lemony dressings. Arugula is great tossed into a food processor with pine nuts and olive oil to make pesto, on top of pizza or stuffed into a sandwich.
This salad green is also known as French or Belgian endive. Endive features a unique oval shape, soft satiny texture and slight bitterness. Its scoop-like shape makes it perfect to use as an edible spoon–perfect for small appetizers.
This salad green is also known as Curly Endive and Chicory. Frisée is closely related to Escarole. It features curled leaves tinged with yellow and green. Its flavor is slightly bitter. Serve Frisée with a light, slightly sweet vignette or mixed with other salad greens for a bit of crunchy texture.
Mesclun is a mix of several varieties of young salad greens and lettuce. Often referred to as “spring mix” or "mesclun mix," the baby greens are harvested when the leaves reach the desired size of three to six inches. Some mixes may include baby herbs, baby beet greens, baby spinach and baby bitter greens. Mesclun is delicious when dressed with a classic French vinaigrette, but also works well with a wide range of dressings.
Also known as lamb’s lettuce, this salad green imparts a mild and slightly sweet flavor to a salad. Its leaves are small, very delicate and will bruise easily. Mache is best served on sandwiches or mixed with other greens in a salad.
This deep-red-purple vegetable can be found as a compact round head, or shaped like its relative, endive. Radicchio imparts a slightly bitter flavor when raw, but sweeter when grilled or roasted.
Related to Frisée, Escarole is a mild bitter green with large, crisp leaves. Escarole is popular in Italian cuisine. Tear it into pieces and add to minestrone soup or a white bean stew. Dress fresh Escarole with a garlicky vinaigrette or serve leaves with a creamy dip.
Watercress is the most popular type of cress. Its peppery taste is characteristic of all varieties. Typically sold in bunches, watercress has a tough, fibrous stem and small green leaves. Serve it on its own with a light dressing or toss it with other greens and veggies.
Young spinach leaves are tender, sweet and are delicious raw or cooked. Spinach is a good source of fiber, protein, heart-healthy nitrates and many other vitamins and minerals. It’s especially delicious with egg, tomato and lentil dishes.
Bitter greens are growing in popularity for use as salad greens. Bitter greens include Kale, Collards, Mizuna, Mustard and Dandelion. These greens work best in salads when young and tender. Because of their bitter bite, bolder flavors like lemon, garlic and vinegar helps to mellow their taste. Bitter greens are incredibly nutritious. They are a great source for antioxidants like flavonoids and carotenoids and contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, K, B and E. If bitter greens are a little too strong for your palate, try mixing them with other salad greens.
With all the varieties of texture, flavor and color lettuce and salad greens offer, it’s easier than ever to eat your greens.