If you guessed ‘lettuce’, you’re right.
While generally mild in flavour, lettuce has become the mainstay of salads, but that is not the only way you can prepare it . Add it to sandwiches, soups, or even grill it. It also makes a healthy addition to smoothies and freshly prepared juices.
Did you know that the ancient Egyptians regarded lettuce as something akin to modern day Viagra? They even dedicated it to the God of Fertility!
Hmmm, if you’re thinking it must have changed a bit since then, you’d be right.
Modern lettuce has been derived from a prickly, bitter plant found growing wild in the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago. Brought into cultivation, early lettuce was prized for its bitter seeds (popular with the Egyptians) and latex (that white milky juice you still find today when you break a fresh leaf across the larger spines). That latex contains terpene-based alcohols which are known to induce sleep. Maybe this is why the ancient Romans traditionally served lettuce at the end of their lavish feasts.
While there are 4 different types of lettuce available in markets today, all are believed to be derived from the same source and have resulted from selection and cultivation over time. For example, Romaine lettuce, as we know it, with its lovely mild-flavoured, crispy leaves, was developed in Syria – from those bitter wild cousins. While the most commonly found Romaine on the market today is green, it also comes in red and purple, similar to the other three types you can find.
Butterhead as the name suggests forms a head of leaves loosely packed together. While sweeter in flavour. it has a soft rather than crispy texture to its leaves.
Crisphead lettuce is probably the most popular, typified by the Iceberg variety. It forms a more tightly packed head of very crisp lighter green leaves, which break easily when you try to peel the layers apart.
Then there are the Loose Leaf lettuces that are mild flavoured and a bit crispy. A collection of several different leaf shapes, sizes and colours (green, red, purple and even pink) are often grown together to produce nutritious, appealing, ready-to-use salad mixes, practically, straight from the field.
On our farm, a mix of different types of lettuces form the basis of our very popular mesclun mixes, that include additional nutrient packed, flavourful greens such as arugula, bok choi, tatsoi, mustards, and more. While these mixes are still growing in our raised beds, why not try preparing some Romaine on the grill? Here’s one of our favourite ways to prepare Romaine.