The crisp, cool, and fresh flavor of lettuce is hard to find anywhere else and it is one of the easiest plants to grow right in your garden starting from seedlings. If you do not want to garden, don’t worry because it is readily available year round at the grocery store! From making fresh, tasty salads to delicious lettuce wraps, there is an abundance of ways to prepare and enjoy this nutritious vegetable. There are different colors, textures, and nutritional values throughout the different types of lettuce, which makes this plant very versatile and easy to enjoy. The scientific name for lettuce is Lactuca sativa.
Lettuce Fun Facts
- “Lettuce leaves exude milk-like fluid (sap) when cut, and hence its name is derived from Latin Lactuca for milk.
- Leaf types with more a bitter taste are rather rich in nutrients as well as antioxidants.”
- “According to historical documents, lettuce was already cultivated in Ancient Egypt as far back as 6,000 years ago. In fact, lettuce is portrayed in several Egyptian hieroglyphs and artwork.
- China is the world’s largest producer of lettuce. Almost 50% of the lettuce being consumed today is grown by the Chinese.
- There are dozens of lettuce varieties, but these can be categorized into four main types: butterhead, crisphead, loose leaf, and romaine.
- Lettuce is always eaten fresh. Because of its high water content (95%), it cannot be frozen or canned.
- If you want to maximize the health benefits from eating lettuce, choose leaves that are darker in color as these contain more nutrients.”
Lettuce has a longstanding history throughout the ages, and in the United States alone it is the second most consumed vegetable behind the potato. Lettuce dates back 5,000 years ago and to this day Romaine lettuce is one of the oldest cultivated variety in the world. There are even ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics that were found resembling the lettuce plant, which is quite remarkable. It started off as one of the more bitter varieties that not many people wanted to eat, and since then it has morphed into different varieties. Back in the days of the Egyptians, they regarded lettuce as an aphrodisiac food.
According to the National Geographic, “The latex also contained terpene-based alcohols potent enough to make people sleepy, which was why by the Roman era, it was served at the end of feasts as a crunchy version of the doze-inducing nightcap. Later, as less-sleepy cultivars became available, it was shifted to the beginning of the banquet, as an appetite stimulant.” It has been used in a variety of ways ever since that time.
Lettuce is not just confined to the land, however, as it has been successfully grown and consumed in outer space of all places. NASA, back in 2015, was able to successfully grow Romaine lettuce that was edible for the crew. The New York Times said, “The new leafy green, a variety of red romaine called “Outredgeous,” was grown and harvested entirely on the station under red, blue, and green LEDs in a special greenhouse aptly named Veggie.”
Lettuce Nutritional Facts
With how light and refreshing romaine lettuce seems to taste, you may not believe it when I tell you that it contains protein! This amazing green plant contains over 17% protein, and it also contains 9 essential amino acids. It also contains calcium, omega-3, vitamin A, iron, B vitamins, and water. Other vitamins and minerals present in different varieties of lettuce are copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and manganese.
According to Nutritional Data, lettuce is packed with vitamins A, C, D, E, K, along with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, choline, folate, and betaline. Wow, that is a complete mouthful when talking about such a simple plant! It is also low in sodium, cholesterol, fats, and carbohydrates, which make it the best diet food you could choose from. Lettuce is a prime food that can be added to sandwiches, or even take the place of bread alone, yet it packs a punch in the nutrition department!
Lettuce Health Benefits
We now know how many vitamins and minerals are loaded inside of a simple lettuce leaf, but what kind of health benefits come from eating this refreshing food? Just by eating lettuce you can reduce your cholesterol levels significantly, as well as lower the inflammation in your body. Lettuce also can help you sleep better at night, which is why it was used hundreds of years ago as a nightcap. It also has the power to help protect the neurons in the brain, which in turn will help you protect your memory and fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Lettuce also has the power to give you a boost in antioxidants, as well as control your anxiety levels which is always a nice perk! Finally, lettuce has natural antimicrobial properties, which will stave off diseases and fungus upon contact with the latex in lettuce. All of the fun facts are true testaments to the power of eating this healthy, yet nutritious, plant, and your body will reap the benefits from it!
There are four main varieties of lettuce and they differ based on the actual shape of the leaves they produce. Crisphead lettuce has tightly packed leaves, and has the least amount of flavor. Butterhead lettuce has loose and floppy leaves, and bibb lettuce is a variety of the butterhead lettuce. Lastly the loose leaf lettuce does not form heads at all, as the leaves grow exactly how they sound. The four main types of lettuce will be explained below. According to Organic Facts, “It was in the period between the 16th and 18th centuries that different types of lettuce were developed due to the discovery that a particular sub-species could cross-pollinate with other subspecies. During medieval times in Europe, lettuce was considered to possess medicinal qualities, which were mentioned in several medieval texts.”
This style of lettuce has a buttery taste, with grassy green leaves and it forms into a cup shape once fully formed.
The most widely known form of crisphead lettuce is iceberg lettuce, and it does not contain strong flavor or color. It is best known for its crispy and crunchy bite.
This is the oldest style of lettuce that has made its way all around the world and has morphed into different flavors. It is the key lettuce used in famous Caesar salads.
This variety of leaves only start at the stem and grow loosely. No head is formed with this style lettuce.
As stated above, there are many fun uses for lettuce, whether you are making a delicious BLT sandwich, a lettuce wrap, or even a refreshing summer salad, the possibilities are endless. One of my favorite uses for lettuce is making a chicken lettuce wrap. Not only do they give you a large amount of protein, but they also fill you up with veggies at the same time! This recipe is a sure fire way to win over a crowd of people, and it will leave you feeling full and satisfied. It also can be used for rabbit food, as bunnies love to chomp on fresh lettuce leaves just as much as humans do.
PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps Recipe
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup water chestnut
- 2⁄3 cup mushroom
- 3 tablespoons chopped onions
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 4 -5 leaves iceberg lettuce
- Make the special sauce by dissolving the sugar in water in a small bowl. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice, and sesame oil.
- Mix well and refrigerate this sauce until you’re ready to serve. Combine the hot water with the hot mustard and set this aside as well. Eventually add your desired measurement of mustard and garlic chili sauce to the special sauce mixture to pour over the wraps. Bring oil to high heat in a wok or large frying pan. Sauté chicken breasts for 4 to 5 minutes per side or until done. Remove chicken from the pan and cool.
- Keep oil in the pan, keep hot. As chicken cools, mince water chestnuts and mushrooms to about the size of small peas.
- Prepare the stir fry sauce by mixing the soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar together in a small bowl.
- When chicken is cool, mince it as the mushrooms and water chestnuts are.
- With the pan still on high heat, add another tablespoon of vegetable oil.
- Add chicken, garlic, onions, water chestnuts, and mushrooms to pan.
- Add stir fry sauce to pan, sauté mixture a couple minutes then serve in lettuce leaves.
No matter how you decide to enjoy incorporating lettuce into your diet, there are a variety of types to choose from and they do not lack in flavor and nutrition. The iceberg lettuce is the least flavorful of them all, but it still holds nutritional value once consumed. The only finicky thing about lettuce is the way it has to be stored. It cannot be frozen or canned, so enjoying it fresh is the best way to go!