What is a lettuce?
A simple lettuce salad – accentuated by a touch of vinegar, fruity olive oil and freshly chopped herbs – gently tumbled onto a striking platter is a perfect accompaniment to freshly grilled fish.
Lettuce has spread to many areas of the world. The ancient Egyptians first used lettuce seed around 6,000 years ago to produce oil. Paintings and other images of lettuce have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
Wild lettuce was a weed that grew in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. An agriculturist writing in 50 AD described lettuce, and it has appeared in recipes written in 16th century France. The explorer Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to the Americas in the 15th century.
Lettuce seeds arrived in Australia on the First Fleet and this popular vegetable is often found in backyard gardens around the country.
In Australia, lettuce is sold by variety. There is a wide range of different types of lettuce available in supermarkets and fresh food markets. The most popular types of lettuce are iceberg (or crisphead), with its compact, round head and firmly packed leaves, cos (or romaine), with long, dark green leaves, and butterhead, with soft green or brown-red leaves.
Other types include the looseleaf varieties that do not form heads and come in various shapes and colours. Oakleaf, coral, frisee and red velvet, are some looseleaf lettuce types.
Why lettuce is good to eat
- Lettuce is an excellent source of vitamin A (the greener the leaves, the more vitamin A present).
- Depending on the variety, lettuce is also a good source of vitamins C and K (important for helping your blood to clot) and folate.
- Lettuce also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function), copper and iron (essential for red blood cell formation).
- Energy – 100 g of iceberg lettuce supplies 40 kJ (cos lettuce supplies 80 kJ).
How are they grown and harvested?
Lettuce grows best in cool temperatures, in areas without extreme heat or cold. Lettuce can be grown from seeds or seedlings and requires plenty of water as it has shallow roots.
Lettuce plants are usually ready to harvest in six to 12 weeks. It is best to harvest early in the morning to maintain quality. Iceberg lettuce (and other firm head lettuce) is cut close to the ground and the leaves are trimmed.
Lettuce can also be grown hydroponically, in a nutrient solution of water containing minerals but not soil. This method produces more lettuce than growing lettuce in the conventional way.
Choose lettuce that is firm and has crisp leaves. Avoid lettuce with wilted leaves or those that have brown, dark or slimy leaves. Iceberg, cos and butterhead lettuce should feel heavy for their size and not have brown or decayed stems.
How to store and keep lettuce
Store lettuce in the crisper section of your fridge. You can store a whole lettuce by washing it, removing the core and placing in a plastic bag or in a container with a lid. The lettuce will stay crisp for several days.
How to use
- Toss looseleaf lettuce with either sliced raw fennel, pieces of beetroot, shaved parmesan or goat’s cheese – dress with wine vinegar, olive oil and pepper.
- For a Caesar salad, mix chopped soft-boiled eggs, cooked chopped bacon, croutons and anchovy fillets and arrange on cos lettuce leaves – drizzle with dressing (garlic, anchovy, mustard, lemon juice and oil and red wine vinegar) and scatter shaved parmesan and chopped parsley on top.
- Wok-fry minced pork or chicken with chilli, lime, garlic, ginger and a splash of fish sauce – spoon it into lettuce leaves and scatter with chopped coriander leaf and chopped peanuts.
- Try a creamy lettuce and chive soup – cook shredded lettuce with chopped potatoes, chives, garlic, spring onions and stock, then blend in a food processor, add reduced fat cream and serve with crusty bread.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.