The one thing all our cruise ship clients want is to get fresh. Produce – fresh produce is what I’m talking about. Alright, that was a stiff try at grabbing some attention. But fresh produce may not strike many as sensational. Then again, I know people who love visiting wet markets, grocers and supermarkets just to look at all the produce available. We supply lots of fresh produce to our clients, and of this an especially huge amount of lettuce: a few different kinds of lettuce, in fact.
That’s actually to be expected. Lettuce is the bedrock in salads because it provides a fresh, crispy-crunchy base while adding good nutrition, texture and a light taste, so that you can still savour the flavours from the other ingredients. You can just imagine how many salads are consumed onboard cruise ships everyday, not to mention all the other dishes that use lettuce either as a main ingredient or garnish. So, what are the different kinds of lettuce that Sofresh commonly supplies?
Romaine lettuce is perhaps the “mightiest” of them all. By volume supplied, it’s certainly up there. And by nutritional content it is king. It contains vitamins K (a whopping 107% Daily Value) and A (45% DV), and folate (32% DV). It also has a good amount of molybdenum (13% DV), an essential trace element crucial for the survival of humans and animals. Severe deficiency in molybdenum results in toxic reactions to sulfites in certain foods, while studies have linked molybdenum deficiency to instances of esophageal cancer in some parts of the world, and an increase in urates people possibly leading to gout.
Romaine, which is also called Cos Lettuce, is a hardy, oval-ish lettuce with spoon-shaped leaves that are firm, crunchy, and with a strong, crisp flavour. They are often used in caeser salads because they are sturdy enough to take on the stronger salad dressings and sauces.
Romaines contain a lot of other good stuff as well, such as dietary fibre, manganese, potassium, copper, vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C, biotin, omega-3 fats, iron, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and panthothenic acid (vitamin B5). Romaine lettuce is linked to heart health, weight loss, better sleep (from lactucarium, the white fluid produced when the leaves are cut or broken), removing toxins, and keeping one’s acid-alkaline levels in balance leading to more energy, helping one think more clearly, and achieving youthful skin.
Coral lettuce, of which we supply the Red Coral a.k.a. lollo rosso, and the Green Coral a.k.a. lollo bionda. Corals are a fancy, pretty-looking lettuce with tight curly leaves that make them look like corals, hence the name. Red Corals are especially decorative, pleasing to both the eyes and palate. Corals add texture, flavour, and heaps of volume, excitement and sexiness to salads. The tight curly leaves of Corals also have a good, useful function: they catch any salad dressing you may want to add to your salad, and deliver this to your mouth instead of letting the dressing collect at the bottom of the plate. Corals are a good source of vitamins A and K, and also contain thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin B6.
Oakleaf lettuce, of which again we supply the Red Oak and Green Oak, have frilly leaves and a tightly packed head – lots of goodness just waiting to be cut loose. They are mild-flavoured and great for salads, but can also be cooked and are great as garnishes for seafood and meat dishes. Oaks are especially rich in vitamins B, C, D and E. In fact, Oaks contain as much as six times the vitamin A content and three times the vitamin C content as an Iceberg lettuce.
Another variety that we frequently supply in Red and Green is the Butterhead lettuce, which are soft-leafed lettuce and fragile, and so must be handled more gently. Butterheads have a delicate, sweet-buttery flavour and mix well with other ingredients in salads. Butterheads are also called Boston Lettuce, and are particularly prized by European taste-buds even though they tend to be a more expensive variety of lettuce. Butterheads are low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium and a good source of vitamin A and phosphorus.
Endive, also called Escarole lettuce, has frizzy green leaves with a slight bitter taste. They are commonly used raw, or mixed with other lettuces in salads, but can also be sauteed. Endive is packed with vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, inulin and dietary fibre. Studies suggest that inulin and dietary fibre combine to reduce glucose and LDL-cholesterol levels in diabetics and people trying to control obesity. Endive also contains folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), manganese, copper, iron and potassium.
Iceberg lettuce is probably the most commonly known and popular lettuce, perhaps because once upon a time they were the only commercially available lettuce in some countries, eg. Australia. But its popularity probably also has to do with its comparatively cheaper price than other lettuces, long shelf-life and the sheer amount of leaves compacted into each ball that can provide many servings. Icebergs have a crisp texture and clean taste, and are very versatile both raw and cooked, in salads and many other dishes, especially Asian ones. Nutrition-wise, Icebergs are a decent source of vitamin K, and although not as high as Oaks, nonetheless they’re still a good-enough source of vitamins A and C too. Plus, Icebergs are low in calories and great for adding bulk, dietary fibre and nutrition to just about any kind of sandwich, so you can still eat healthy and well even on the go.
Radicchio looks very much like lettuce, but strictly speaking are a type of chicory – part of the dandelion family, usually with bright blue flowers, and often cultivated for salad leaves. Since Sofresh supplies a lot of Radicchio too, I’ll add it to our list of lettuce (a second-cousin, if you like). Radicchio have firm, loose green leaves (with some reddish tinge) and taste bitter, so adding it to salads will provide some kick. Radicchio are versatile and good with strong dressings and sauces, raw, grilled or fried. Radicchio goes especially well with duck and pork dishes, and cheese. Nutrition-wise, Radicchio is an excellent source of vitamins C, E and K, folate, potassium, copper and mangenese. It’s also a good source of dietary fibre, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.
So, which then is the best lettuce? Nutritionally, it has to be the Romaine. And this seems to be the general consensus, judging by a quick search on the internet.
But each kind of lettuce really has its own merits, from nutrition to flavour, to the way it looks and how it can be used. Which is why, like fellow members in the larger vegetable family, different lettuce types are often mixed and matched together, and with other veggies, depending on the results desired.
One thing’s certain: everytime our clients’ cruise ships call in at Singapore, lettuce is always on the menu, and we’re happy to supply it all. As a matter of fact, we’re more than happy – we’re proud to be able to provide not just a needed product and service, but to know that we’ve played a part in delivering so much healthy goodness and nutrition that will be enjoyed by so many people onboard.
It’s time to sign off on this article, and with one last bit of lettuce-trivia: don’t store your lettuce (or green leafy veggies in general) next to apples, otherwise the lettuce leaves will get dark spots quite quickly. Till the next one, healthy and enjoyable eating everyone!