Lettuce - Iceberg (Head), Romaine, Green and Red Leaf
First known to be cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia, lettuce has a long and distinguished history dating back to 4500 BC where ancient Greeks and Romans consumed lettuce for its therapeutic medicinal properties. Grown since the 5th century, in China it is believed that lettuce brings good luck. Christopher Columbus is credited for bringing lettuce to North America and missionaries planted lettuce in California in the 17th century. It wasn’t until the invention of refrigerated railcars that lettuce became available throughout the United States adding to its increased popularity.
Red, green and romaine leaf varieties are highly perishable and impossible to re-store, lettuce should be displayed either on ice or under refrigeration. Choose lettuce that is fresh and crisp. Choose lettuce with healthy outer leaves as they contain the highest in nutritional value. Avoid limp, wilted leaves and leaves with brown or yellow edges.
For iceberg (head) lettuce, choose symmetrically shaped, dark green outer leaves that are tight and healthy looking. The stem end of a head of iceberg lettuce may look brown as a result of cutting at harvest. This is entirely natural and should not be confused with post harvest damage. Scent should be sweet and free of any bitter sensation.
Separate refrigerator storage of greens from fruits, such as apples or bananas, which give off ethylene gas as they ripen. Ethylene emitting fruits will cause lettuce to brown and decay rapidly. For appetizingly crisp greens, wash and dry them, then layer the leaves in clean paper towels and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate in the crisper drawer until serving time, but not more than a few hours, for optimal nutrient retention. Refrigerating in a plastic zip lock bag will help to avoid any ethylene that could be absorbed from other fruits stored within your refrigerator. Iceberg should keep for up to two weeks, romaine for about 10 days, and red and green leaf lettuces for about four days.
If you purchase wrapped iceberg (head) lettuce, leave it in the wrapper until you are ready to use. Unused iceberg should be stored in a zip lock bag or a sealed plastic container to keep crisp and fresh.
Before thoroughly washing lettuce, first twist off the stem and separate leaves. Separate the leaves that you will use leaving the remaining intact. Store in a zipper lock bag or plastic lined container for use at a later time. Thoroughly dry leaves by wrapping in a paper towel. Dry lettuce helps absorb dressings used to liven up a great salad.
For iceberg, it is best to core before washing. Cut the head in half lengthwise and then remove the core with a stainless steel knife or rap the head, core-end down, on the counter, then twist and lift the core out. If you're using the whole head, rinse it by running cold water into the cored end, then invert the lettuce to drain it well.