Lettuce is one of the oldest vegetables and probably originated in India or Central Asia. According to the writings of Herodotus, lettuce was served to the Persian kings as far back as the sixth century B.C. It was a popular Roman food at about the beginning of the Christian era, and in the first century A.D. a dozen distinctly different varieties were described by Roman writers of that era. There is also evidence that lettuce was grown in China in the fifth century A.D.
Columbus may have carried lettuce seeds to the New World, for it was being cultivated in the Bahamas in 1494. It was a common vegetable in Haiti as early as 1565, and Brazil was reported to have been cultivating it before 1650. The early colonists evidently introduced lettuce into the United States, and in 1806 sixteen varieties were reported growing in American gardens.
Both the English and Latin words for lettuce are based on the heavy, milky juice of the vegetable, which is a characteristic of the lettuce family. The primitive forms of lettuce had long stems, and large leaves grew at the ends of these stems. The close-packed lettuce heads were well developed in Europe by the sixteenth century, while the loose-head type was developed later.
Lettuce has become the most valuable truck crop, and 85 percent of the commercial crop is produced in the West-California, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The Northeast and South Atlantic states are also important lettuce-growing regions.
Lettuce is available all year, and the peak months are May, June, and July. Although the Crisphead and Butterhead types of lettuce are the most important from a commercial standpoint, the Cos or Romaine type is best from a health standpoint, as the sun is allowed to penetrate each leaf. The leaves also generally have less of the bitterness that is characteristic of some types of head lettuce. The "leaf" or "bunching" type of lettuce is distinguished by loose leaves that do not form a head. This type is best for home gardening, as it can be grown in areas where the temperature is too high for successful growing of the other types of lettuce. The Stem type lettuce has an enlarged stem and no head. The leaves are not as palatable as the other types of lettuce leaves except when young and tender. The stems are pulled and eaten raw or cooked.
Lettuce of good quality should be fresh, crisp, and tender, and if in head-lettuce form, the head should be fairly firm to hard. Lettuce with a well-developed seed stem has a bitter flavor.
Benefits of LettuceLeaf lettuce is much richer in iron than head lettuce. I do not advocate using head lettuce in the diet, for it contains little nourishment. It contains significantly lower amounts of vitamins A and C than green Romaine lettuce. The darker green outside leaves contain a much higher proportion of the valuable food elements than the light-colored inner leaves. Head lettuce is very gas-forming, and really only offers bulk to the intestinal tract. It has an alkaline ash, however, and is not stimulating. Also, it is excellent for those who would like to lose weight. It also has many sleeppromoting elements and makes good lettuce juice, which will help promote sleep. It tends to slow down the digestive effect of the intestinal tract.
Nutrients in one pound (head lettuce)
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