Head lettuce, also known as iceberg lettuce, is a dense rosette of leaves that forms a tight ball about the size of a human head. Although head lettuce contains fewer nutrients than leafy romaine lettuce, it is a favorite staple vegetable for its texture and sweetness. An annual crop that prefers cool weather and plenty of water throughout the growing season, in the United States only potatoes rank higher in popularity as the number one vegetable.
A leaf of head lettuce unfurls from the ball forming a bowl-shape, and unlike other types of lettuce, the color, taste and texture of the leaf varies greatly from tip to base. The tip is rich green, leafy in texture without being slick or “slimy,” giving way to a lighter green sweet center with a slightly crunchy texture, that lead to the snappy whitish base of the leaf. The variance in texture, sweetness and color makes head lettuce an excellent choice for sandwich toppings and salads.
Because of the bowl-shape leaves of head lettuce, it makes a perfect wrap, especially handy for those watching their weight. Leaves can be used instead of bread, buns or tortillas for wrapping burgers, fish, beans, meat or soy-based alternatives. The leaves also make a decorative “plate” for hors d’oeuvres such as crackers and cheese, cut veggies, pastas, egg and potato salads and other appetizers.
Lettuce should always be washed thoroughly before eating. One excellent way to do this is by using a salad spinner. A salad spinner is a bowl with a removable inner basket. Place head lettuce leaves in the basket and run them under water. Shake the basket of excess water, then replace it in the salad spinner bowl. The top of the salad spinner includes a built-in crank or pump mechanism for spinning the inner basket when the container is closed. This removes left over water and leaves lettuce fluffy and perfect for eating.
Until the 1920s, head lettuce was called crisphead lettuce, but the name changed to iceberg when California farmers began packing it in ice to keep it fresh during shipment. Today, California ranks as the number one state for growing lettuce.