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,
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
Buttercrunch, Cassandra, Fatima, Tom Thumb, Sangria.
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.
Chinese (Celtuce, Stem
Lettuce, Asparagus Lettuce, Woh Sun).
Yu Mai, Yu Mai Tsai.
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.
Great Lakes, Saladin, Webb's Wonderful, Crispsalat.
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.
Grand Rapids, Ruby, Salad Bowl, Deer Tongue.
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.
Winter Density, Bubbles, Lobjoits Green, Valmaine.
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
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
(French Crisp, Batavia)
Nevada, Anuenue, Magenta
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.