Lettuce: more varied than ever

Farmer's Weekly|February 28, 2020

Lettuce: more varied than ever
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) goes back a long way; it has been cultivated for more than 4 500 years. As with most vegetables, it looked very different when first discovered in the Middle East to the roundish, leafy vegetable we enjoy today.

Lettuce started off as an erect plant with prickly leaves and stems, a bitter taste, and copious quantities of latex. Today, the latex and bitterness emerge when the plants are old and start entering the reproductive stage.

New lettuce varieties are less likely to become bitter, and also have a far lower latex content.

Over the centuries, the original wild types have been bred into a wide array of varieties and a number of different colours, which makes them more attractive and, in some cases, more nutritious. The reddish hues contain anthocyanin, a valuable antioxidant.

Broadly speaking, there are four types of lettuce:

• Iceberg lettuce Crisphead, or iceberg, lettuce is the most popular type in many countries. The name ‘iceberg’ was derived from the practice of shipping these vegetables from California to distant destinations covered in crushed ice.

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February 28, 2020