Why You Should Love Those Weird Lettuces


These days, there are more than 100 varieties of lettuce available, giving us an endless assortment of colors, textures and shapes to adorn our plates -- and countless ways to work more healthy greens into our diets. (Read more here about creative uses for leafy greens.)

In addition to traditional lettuces, unique, heirloom varieties are often offered at farmers' markets, and they're definitely worth a try. Don't be shy: When perusing lettuce, ask questions such as, "Is this lettuce more like a buttery Bibb or sharp arugula?" The grower will love bragging about the taste and textural qualities of the leaves!

And for those times when you don’t have the opportunity to ask, use this cheat sheet!

Butter Oak: Varieties include Flashy and Blushed; the oak-shaped, super soft leaves are achieved by crossing butterhead-type lettuce with oak leaf lettuce.

Buttercrunch: Bibb-type lettuce with thick, juicy leaves and subtle buttery flavor.

Cimarron: Large, tender, red romaine with orange-yellow center; flavor resembles blend of red lettuce and romaine.

Deer Tongue: Also known as Amish Deer Tongue and Matchless lettuce; Bibb-like lettuce with pointed leaves, crisp texture and buttery/nutty flavor; red variety boasts green leaves with distinctly red edges.

Divina: Delicately flavored Butterhead lettuce.

Emerald Oak: Rounded, dark green, oak-shaped leaves with crisp texture and sweet flavor.

Flashy Troutback: Similar to Freckles lettuce, but with better uniformity and more splashes of red speckles.

Freckles: Bright green romaine leaves with splashes of crimson; crisp and flavorful.

Frisée: Curly leaves of endive; mildly peppery and refreshing.

Jericho: Loose heads of smooth, silky romaine leaves; sweet and crisp.

Lamb's Lettuce: Varieties include Curly and Blond; rosette (rounded flower) shaped green leaves with velvety texture; sweet and buttery.

Little Gem: Romaine-like lettuce with short, crisp, flavorful leaves.

Merlot: As you would suspect, frilly leaves are the color of merlot wine (dark red, almost purple); rich flavor.

Micro Greens: Tiny lettuce leaves that are less than 14 days old.

Miner's: "Miner’s lettuce" refers to the California Gold Rush miners who ate this lettuce for vitamin C, to prevent scurvy; also known as Winter Purslane or Indian lettuce; hearty leaves similar to baby spinach.

Mizuna: Japanese mustard green (shown above) that resembles arugula; bright, earthy flavor.

Oak Leaf: Blend of light green and rosy red leaves; sweet and fresh.

Optima: Large butterhead lettuce; bright green, curved leaves make natural "cups" for prepared salads.

Pirat: Butterhead lettuce with red-tinged green leaves; slightly bittersweet, yet buttery.

Rocket: Also known as arugula; long, soft green leaves with deep red stems; mildly peppery and sharp.

Romaine Blonde Marachier: Also called Paris White Cos; bright, yellowish-green, conical-shaped romaine leaves with crisp texture and bold flavor.

Saint Anne's: Romaine lettuce with short, light green leaves; crisp and flavorful.

Simpson: Loose heads, crumpled leaves; delicate flavor similar to butter or Bibb; tender and sweet.

Sucrine: "Sugar lettuce;" smaller variety of romaine with soft, silky leaves and buttery texture.

Tom Thumb: Butterhead lettuce; rumpled leaves with mild, sweet flavor; grows the size of a baseball, making it ideal for individual salads.

Yugoslavian Red: Butterhead lettuce with deep burgundy leaves.

Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.

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