THE HISTORY OF LETTUCE
Domestication of lettuce began with the Egyptians more than 3000 years ago, with tallish, deep-rooted, prickly plants, which quickly bolted to release seeds. By 2000 BC pictures on Egyptian tombs showed lettuce plants resembling the upright romaine lettuce. These moved around the Mediterranean Sea to the Middle East and Europe.
Ancient Roman references refer to green, pale, white, tawny, reddish and purple tones – the full plethora of colours available today – and variations in texture from smooth to curly types.A subspecies called celtuce, which formed crunchy, elongated, celery-like stems, travelled east,eventually reaching China. As these lettuces travelled through Persia, Greece, Rome, Sicily and later into France, Germany and England, different types were adapted for different environments.
WHICH LETTUCE IS HEALTHIEST ?
Deeper coloured, heirloom lettuces are nutritionally superior. As with other vegetables, lettuces with a more bitter flavour and more intense colour have more nutrients and
anti-oxidants. Conversely, the paler the leaf, the lower the nutritional value. Traditional crisphead-types with pale internal leaves have much lower nutritional value.
TYPES OF LETTUCE
CRISPHEAD OR ICEBERG LETTUCES
These grow slowly to form tight hearts, with the leaves varying from bright green on the outside to pale green within the heart away from light. They are still the main varieties grown for market because they pack, travel and store so well.
These feature soft, textured leaves, rosettes rather than hearts, and a diverse range of colours, from buttery yellow to two tone reds and greens, tawny brown and magenta. The leaves may be deeply notched, flat, curled, crinkly, wavy or frilled and the effect can be very ornamental. Loose-leaf lettuces are tender and delicate in flavour.
Also called summercrisp, or French crisp, Batavian lettuces are midway between the crisphead and leaf types. They are large lettuces, with good flavour. The thick outer leaves can be harvested as a loose-leaf, until the head starts to form, which is crisp and juicy with a slight nutty flavour.
When researchers at Colorado State University were evaluating bolting resistance, they found that Batavian lettuces resisted bolting longer than any other type of lettuce, staying crisp and tasty.
BUTTERHEAD (BIBB OR BOSTON) LETTUCES
Butterhead lettuces form heads, but they are much looser than crisphead, with a crumpled head, soft texture and a very delicate flavour. While some, like Buttercrunch, hold well in hot weather, they tend to become bitter.
COS OR ROMAINE LETTUCES
These are of Mediterranean origin, ‘romaine’ being a derivation of Roman, and ‘cos’ coming from Kos, a Greek Island. The romaine lettuces are more upright, forming tight, elongated hearts. These combine the crisp juiciness of head lettuces with the nutritional value of leaf lettuce. They are popular with chefs for caesar salads, with their long, thick, crisp leaves and distinctive flavour.
People have used herbs for their culinary and healing properties for centuries. Today, herbs remain as popular as ever. Cooks love the unique flavors that herbs lend to all kinds of food and drink. Herbalists treasure the healing qualities of certain flowers, leaves and roots. Herbal crafters preserve the beauty and fragrance of flowers and leaves in potpourri, wreaths, sachets and dried arrangements. And gardeners value herbs for all their excellent qualities, including their vigor, low maintenance and natural resistance to pests.
When most of us think of herbs, we picture the common kitchen seasonings, such as basil, rosemary, sage and thyme. Yet, an herb is any plant that is considered useful. For instance, the leaves, roots, seeds, stems or flowers of an herb might be important as a source of flavoring, medicine, fragrance, dye or some other product. It’s not all about function. Some gardeners grow herbs simply because they are beautiful.
Microgreens are the seedlings of vegetables and herbs. Once the seed of an herb or vegetable begins to grow, it is considered a sprout. Once the sprout begins to grow, the baby plant is considered a microgreen. Sprouts and microgreens are not one and the same. Sprouts are usually grown in water and harvested within 2-3 days while microgreens are grown in soil, require sunlight, and are harvested after 1-3 weeks of growing time, when they are about 2 inches tall.
The flavor of microgreens depends on the plant they comes from. It can range from mild to tangy, spicy, or peppery. Due to their high antioxidant content, microgreens are considered a functional food, a food that promotes health or prevents disease. Microgreens contain a higher concentration of many nutrients when compared with the mature, fully grown vegetables or herbs.