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The Types Of Lettuce

There are hundreds of types of lettuce broadly divided into six cultivar groups based on leaf formation.

You'd never know how many choices there were based on the same same old romaine and iceberg options we find at the local grocer, but flavors and textures abound. 

Although only a few variates are available in stores, Asian and farmer's markets often have some unusual types, and anyone with a little space for growing vegetables from seeds can sample the many types of lettuce, and get them fresh to boot.

The Types of Lettuce: Cultivar Groups

Cultivar Group
Example Cultivars
Types Of Lettuce Butterhead

Boston, Bibb, Buttercrunch, Cassandra, Fatima, Tom Thumb, Sangria.
Description: Butterhead lettuce forms loose heads of soft, tender, almost floppy leaves. The Boston variety looks a bit like a rose, while bibb has a smaller head that looks a bit like a cup. The leaves have a buttery texture, which accounts for the name, and come in green, red, and bronze. The flavor tends to be sweet.
Types of Lettuce Chinese Lettuce
(Celtuce, Stem Lettuce, Asparagus Lettuce, Woh Sun).

Zulu, New Yu Mai, Yu Mai Tsai.
Description: All the varieties of Chinese lettuce I've tried have been quite bitter. From talking to some Asian acquaintances, it seems they're stir fried or cooked in various dishes in Asian cuisine, and usually not eaten raw. I've also found a variety with a thick stem, and it appears this type is boiled and eaten like asparagus while the leaves are discarded. Most types seem to have long, sword-like leaves.
Types of Lettuce Crisphead

Krachsalat, Iceberg, Great Lakes, Saladin, Webb's Wonderful, Crispsalat.
Description: These are the guys with the crunch. Iceberg is by far the most common member of this group, and it dominates lettuce production in the U.S. Their leaves grow together in tight balls, while being very high in water, meaning you get a lot of green in a small growing space. The high water content also means that they're the lowest in calories of any of the types of lettuce.
Types of Lettuce Looseleaf
Oak leaf, Grand Rapids, Ruby, Salad Bowl, Deer Tongue.
Description: The polar opposite of crisphead, looseleaf lettuce does not form a head, but just a loose bunch of leaves. The many varieties range dramatically in color and shape.

The leaves can be short, long, indented, and the plant itself can stick low to the ground like a short grass or be more bushy and upright. Looseleaf is also the best type for "incremental harvesting". Instead of harvesting the whole plant, you can pluck leaves off at the stem and they'll grow back fairly quickly.
Types of Lettuce Romaine
Little Gem, Winter Density, Bubbles, Lobjoits Green, Valmaine. 
Description: With their long cylindrical leaves based upon a firm, juicy rib, the romaine types of lettuce are excellent for use as wraps, such as my favorite raw mango salsa burrito. The leaves are generally green, but can be found in red as well.

The name Cos originates from the Greek island of Cos or the the Arabic word for lettuce, khus, depending on which expert you ask. They started being called romaine because they spread to western Europe from Rome.

Romaine types of lettuce are also unique in that they're fairly heat tolerant, meaning they can thrive even in summer when other types are wilting. 
Types of Lettuce Summer Crisp
Summer Crisp
(French Crisp, Batavia)
Cherokee, Barbados, Nevada, Anuenue, Magenta
Description: The Summer Crisp types of lettuce are, as their name implies, fairly resistant to summer heat. In appearance the heads are a bit like crinkly versions of the butterhead types, but the leaves have more of a romaine-like crunch to them. I find summer crisp to be pleasantly sweet and lacking in bitterness.

The Types of Lettuce: Following Up

Find out about incorporating these types of lettuce into a healthy raw food diet.

Learn how you can grow lettuce in a garden, on a patio, or even indoors.

Why are leafy greens the healthiest vegetables to eat? Find out here.

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