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Monday, April 13, 2015

Lettuce


Lettuce:

About:

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a fairly hardy, cool weather annual plant in the daisy family, Astercease.  It is most often grown as a leaf vegetable, but sometimes for its stem and seeds.  China is the world's top lettuce producing country with the U.S. a distant second followed by India, and Spain.

Uses:

Lettuce is most often used for salads , but it is also seen in other kinds of foods such as soups, sandwiches, and wraps.   Lettuce is mostly eaten raw, but can also be grilled.   The Woju variety called "asparagus lettuce" is grown for its stems which are eaten both raw and cooked.  


History:

Lettuce was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, who turned it from a weed whose seeds were used to produce oil, into a food plant grown for its succulent leaves as well as its oil rich seeds.   Lettuce spread to the Greeks and Romans.  By 50 A.D. multiple types of lettuce were described in medieval writings.  The 16th to 18th centuries saw the development of many varieties in Europe.  Europe and North America dominated the market for lettuce, but by the late 1900s the consumption of lettuce had spread throughout the world.  

My Story:

When I was in my early teens, and  working in my grandfather's fruit and vegetable store, there  was one time when  my father was also helping out.  My father disliked the grocery business and had determined to get out of it.  He did and  was working in a factory, but sometimes he put in a few hours at Grandpa's store.  This one particular time he was in the walk-in refrigerator.  I opened the door to see him holding his right index finger with his other hand with the most awful, pained expression on  his face.  What had happened was he went to pick up a case of lettuce.  At that time  lettuce was packed in wooden crates held together with nails.  The top of the crate was also attached with nails.  One of the nails had not been nailed in and was exposed.  When he went to pick up the crate he did not see the exposed nail and he lifted the crate with his finger right on the point of the nail.   The nail went  through his finger between the first and second knuckle.   I did not see any blood.  I don't know if he had wiped it, or the wound just did not produce any,but there was a small hole on each side of his finger.  He did not make a sound.  He then left the cooler (refrigerator)  and went to the bathroom where we had some first aid supplies.  He put a dab of white  first aid cream on each side of the finger, where the nail had entered and exited.   He then put a band aid on it, and went back to work.    That's over 50 years ago, but I remember it like it was a couple of weeks ago. 

Types of Lettuce:


Romaine                              Leaf








Boston                 Iceberg








In the U.S. we produce 4 Main Categories of Lettuce:

  • Romaine (also known as Cos):  Used mainly for salads and sandwiches.  This type forms long upright heads and is mostly used in Caesar salads.
  • Leaf:  Also known as looseleaf, cutting, or bunching lettuce.  It has loosely bunched leaves and is the most widely planted.  It is used mainly for salad.
  • Butterhead: Also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce.  It has loose arrangement of leaves and is kinown for its sweet flavor and tender texture.
  • Crisphead (also known as Iceberg)  It is the most popular lettuce in the U.S.  It ships well, but is low in flavor and nutritional content. 
Other main categories of lettuce not generally available in the U.S. are Summercrist (also called Batavian or French Crisp, it is between the iceberg and leaf,  Stem (grown for its seeds rather than leaves), Oilseed, (grown for its seeds which are pressed  to extract am oil mainly used for cooking. 
There are actually hundreds of varieties of lettuce grown with different harvesting times. 

Nutrition:

Lettuce is a good source of vitamin A and potassium as well as a minor source for several other vitamins and nutrients including beta carotene.  Except for iceberg  lettuce is also a good source of vitamin C, calcium , and iron.
Despite its beneficial properties contaminated lettuce is often a source of bacterial, viral, and parasitic outbreaks in humans including E. coli and Salmonella.  

Health Benefits:

Here are 10 different health benefits of eating lettuce: 
  1. Low calorie and almost no fat
  2. Helps weight loss - contains fiber and cellulose
  3. Heart Healthy
  4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  5. Complete Protein -  contains 20% protein
  6. Helps with insomnia - contains lactucarium which has relaxing and sleep inducing properties
  7. Alkaline Forming - contains minerals that remove toxins and regulate pH
  8. Low Glycemic 
  9. Whole Life - contains many micronutrients not found in cooked food
  10. Tasters Great - has a sweet taste.

Season:

Available year round

Selecting and Storing:

Choose heads that are free from wilt, rot, and rust.
Wrap fresh unwashed leaves in plastic and store in the refrigerator for 3 - 5 days.  Avoid storing lettuce with apples, pears, or bananas.  These fruits release ethylene gas that will cause brown spots and decay quickly on lettuce.

So..... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how. 


Here's a list of foods that match well with lettuce:

Anchovies                                          Garlic                                              Oil
Avocados                                           Lemon                                             Onions
Cheese                                                Mayonnaise                                     Pepper
Egg Yolks                                           Mustard                                           Vinaigrette
                                                                                                                    Vinegar
















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