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What is Leaf Lettuce?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Leaf lettuce is a lettuce with an open growth habit, which forms loose clusters of leaves rather than a tight head. There are a number of varieties, including red leaf lettuce and butter lettuce. There are a wide range of uses for this vegetable, ranging from salads to taco fillings. It is vary easy to grow and is readily available in most markets, for people who do not want to cultivate their own lettuce.

Some other varieties of lettuce include head lettuce, which forms tightly furled heads of leaves, and cos lettuce, which forms an elongated cluster of leaves, as is the case with Romaine lettuce, a popular cos variety. These lettuces have different tastes, textures, and nutritional values, and they also mature at different rates. Many people like to grow a mixed lettuce garden with several varieties so that their diets will be diverse, but since leaf lettuces grow so quickly and easily, they often make up the majority of a garden.

As leaf lettuce grows, it forms a loosely arranged rosette of irregularly shaped and sized leaves. The leaves are often very lightweight and ruffly, with a wrinkly surface and a soft, almost velvety texture. They are not as crisp and crunchy as some head lettuces, but are instead more soft and delicate. In addition to being served washed and raw, the leaves can also be lightly wilted for warm salads.

The nutritional value of leaf lettuce varies, depending on the cultivar. Like other leafy greens, it can have lots of calcium and other minerals, especially if it is grown on rich organic soil. It also tends to be very fragile and should be consumed within a few days of harvest, before it wilts or becomes slimy. Like other lettuces, the leaves should always be washed before they are eaten to remove any dirt or insects.

When picking out lettuce in the market, shoppers should look for crisp specimens without discolored or slimy spots. Leaf lettuce will keep best if it still has roots, because the roots can be wrapped in a wet towel or left in a dish of water. If no roots are present, cooks should shake the lettuce to remove droplets of water and wrap it in plastic until they intend to eat it. It can be used in salads, sandwiches, and a variety of other foods.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By sunshined — On May 23, 2011

@myharley - That is one reason I try to grow my own lettuce for as many months out of the year as I can. I enjoy growing leaf lettuce along with several other kinds, and really miss it when I have to buy it at the store.

If you don't have garden space, I read an article where they planted lettuce in a big pot on their deck - much like container planting with flowers, only they used lettuce. It might be a fun, economical experiment to try.

By myharley — On May 21, 2011

I have read many times that iceberg lettuce does not have very much nutrition because it is mostly water. It is also a much lighter green than most other kinds of lettuce, so that is probably another reason it does not have as many nutrients than those that are darker green, purple or red.

The thing I like about iceberg lettuce though, is that it seems to stay fresh longer than other kinds. It is frustrating to spend more for the other kind of lettuce, only to have them spoil in a few days.

By golf07 — On May 20, 2011

@wisgal - I always wash all of my loose leaf lettuce before eating it. I have a vegetable wash I use and will put it in a salad spinner with some paper towels so it gets good and dry before using.

You can buy several kinds of lettuce already pre-washed in the store, but I still prefer to buy it and wash it myself. It takes a little bit longer, but I feel that it is much fresher that way. As long as it gets completely dry, it will still stay nice and crisp.

By wisgal — On Jan 09, 2011

I am a produce manager. we wash the red and green and romaine lettuce every morning. is this good for it?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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