Lettuce has been cultivated for thousands of years. In Egyptian times it was considered a sacred vegetable and tubs of lettuce were ceremoniously carried before their fertility god. It was also considered a powerful aphrodisiac. However, the Greeks and Romans thought lettuce had quite the opposite effect, making one sleepy and generally lethargic. In herbal remedies lettuce is recommended for insomniacs. In the past it was also used as a cooling food during illness. Lettuce is a good source of Vitamin A, C and folic acid.

There are hundreds of different varieties of lettuce, so when mixing salads, look for contrast in colour and texture as well as flavour. Adding fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil will add another dimension.

Types of Lettuce
There are many types available, some of the most common types grown in Ireland are as follows:

Name Description
Butterhead This is the classic lettuce seen in kitchen gardens. It is a round lettuce with soft, loosely packed, green leaves and may not always have a heart. It lacks a distinctive flavour.
Red Butterhead This is a loose-hearted lettuce. The heart leaves are tinged with red but outer leaves are bronze. This lettuce wilts easily.
Oakleaf Lettuce This lettuce has curly, frilly leaves, which resemble a dandelion. It is a delicately flavoured lettuce with a short shelf-life. It wilts very quickly after cutting. There are red and green types.
Lollo Rosso The lollo rosso leaves are frilled with a dark red edge, which makes it very attractive in salads. Its flavour resembles that of chicory or an endive. Lollo biondo is a pale green version.
Crisphead Lettuce The heads of crisphead lettuce are large and firm with a few outer leaves. It has a distinct bite or crunch and is slightly more bitter than iceberg lettuce. It has a good shelf-life.
Cos Cos lettuce is the only lettuce that would have been known in antiquity. It is known by two names: cos, derived from the Greek island where it was found by the Romans, and romaine, the name used by the French. It is a tall lettuce with thickish crunchy leaves and a distinctive flavour. It is the type of lettuce that should be used when making Caesar salad.
Iceberg This is a type of crisp lettuce. The dense head of pale green leaves is used in mixed salads and side salads. It has less flavour than other types of lettuce but as it requires little preparation and will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator, it is commonly used in kitchens. Iceberg has excellent texture qualities.
Little Gem Little Gem looks like something between a baby cos and a tightly furled butterhead. They have firm hearts and are enjoyed for their distinctive flavour. Like other lettuce hearts they cope well with being cooked.
Lamb’s Lettuce or Corn Salad This popular winter leaf does not actually belong to the lettuce family but it makes a lovely addition to salads. Called mâche in France, it has spoonshaped leaves and an excellent nutty flavour.
Rocket Rocket has a wonderful peppery flavour that is excellent in a mixed green salad. It has small, bright green, dandelion shaped leaves. It is also known as arugula in the United States and parts of Europe.

Nutritional Value

Nutrient Raw
Energy kJ 59
Kcal 14
Protein g 0.8
Carbohydrate g 1.7
Fat g 0.5

A good source of…

Nutrient Raw
Vitamin A One TickOne Tick
Vitamin C One Tick
Folic Acid One TickOne Tick

For more information on nutrition and the details given above, check out our nutrition page.

Preparing and Using
Lettuce should be kept cool. Iceberg lettuce will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks if stored in a refrigerator. Little Gem will also stay in excellent condition for several days if kept in the fridge. The non-hearting and round (cabbage) types of lettuce need to be used up within 1–2 days.

Salad greens used to mean just lettuce but all that changed when chefs began to acquire an appetite for the mesclun salads of the Provencal region of France. The word mesclun comes from the Latin word mesclumo, which means mixture. Traditional mesclun is foraged from the wild and includes tender shoots,leaves, and flowers of edible plants and herbs. Naturally, growers and chefs have had to come up with sources other than wild plants. The hallmark of mesclun is a balance of colours, textures and flavours that run from sweet and tender through bitter and crisp to peppery and pungent. Spicy leaves include mustard leaves, rocket, Tat soi and purple kale. Milder flavours come from lollo rosso, fennel fronds, red oak leaf and lamb’s lettuce. Mesclun mixes are usually blends of seasonal young leaves.

Although lettuce is generally regarded as a salad vegetable, it can be cooked and puréed or can be added to stews, casseroles and soups, stuffed or cooked as a vegetable accompaniment to savoury dishes.

Salads can be made using only one lettuce or a mixture of many. Tear rather than cut the leaves of loose-leafed lettuce; icebergs and other large lettuce are commonly sliced or shredded. They should be served as soon as possible after preparation. Dressings should be well flavoured with a hint of sharpness but never too astringent. Always use the best possible oils and vinegars. A combination of walnut oil and sunflower oil will give a more fragrant dressing – walnut oil dressings work particularly well with rocket. Orange, lemon or lime juice can be used for astringency. Warm dressings have also become a popular menu choice.

Rocket can be added to plain green salads or it can be ground with garlic, pine nuts and olive oil for a pasta dressing. It is an excellent leaf for garnishing and tastes superb contrasted with grilled goat’s cheese. It can be used in sandwiches and added to pitta pockets with tomatoes, avocado, peanuts and bean sprouts. Rocket is also good paired with fresh stone fruits like peaches or nectarines, or combined with crisped, crumbled bacon, a julienne of ham or crumbled feta.

Romaine lettuce is a good choice for wholemeal salads with lots of ingredients. Because they stay crisp, romaine leaves are good in sandwiches, too. Always use Romaine when making a Caesar salad. The texture of iceberg lettuce is just right for Tex Mex foods like tacos. It is also good topped with blue cheese dressing. Lamb’s lettuce works well with toasted walnuts or hazelnuts and a simple vinaigrette.


For some lettuce recipes, visit the Bord Bia website here

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