Not all lettuce is equal. 

By Sarra Sedghi
May 21, 2019
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If you’ve been to the farmers’ market lately, you know that lettuce is in good supply right now. Many varieties of the leafy green have come into season, making the perfect canvas for a summer salad or a delectable way to increase your produce intake. 

The lettuce spectrum, ranging from cool and crisp iceberg lettuce to bitter radicchio and peppery arugula, covers many tastes, shades of green (or red!), and strengths. Here, we break down 13 common varieties and cultivars of lettuce and explore the best ways to use them. 

Arugula

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Arugula, also known as rocket, is best known for its pungent, peppery taste and rich nutritional profile—it’s loaded with erucin, a cancer-fighting agent, as well as calcium, potassium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K. Arugula is primarily eaten as a salad green, but is also a popular pizza topping. 

Belgian Endive

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Crisp, slightly bitter, and mildly sweet, Belgian endives peak twice a year—once in spring, and again in fall. Raw endives are popular in salads and appetizers, but can also hold their own when braised or grilled. Endive’s closest relatives are escarole, radicchio, and friseé. 

Butterhead Lettuce

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Butterhead lettuce, also known as Bibb or Boston lettuce, is sweet and tender with loose, almost velvety leaves. The tender leaves are best eaten fresh and are popular in salads. Like other varieties, butterhead lettuce is low in calories; it’s rich in vitamins A and K, potassium, and folate. 

Dandelion Greens

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Yep, we’re talking about the same plant that’s taking over your yard. Dandelion greens have a bitter taste that’s not for everyone, but those who enjoy them should try them cooked as well as raw in a salad. Many specialty stores, such as international markets, carry dandelion greens. 

Escarole

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Escarole, another cultivated variety of endives, is only slightly bitter compared to its closest relatives. The frilly leaves don’t lose their flavor when cooked, so escarole is a popular addition to soups and pastas. 

Friseé

Friseé is a cultivated variety of endive known for its pleasantly bitter taste and curly-edged leaves. It’s potent, so you only need a little, and you’ll often see it mixed into mesclun greens and other salad blends. Friseé’s popularity has exploded over the last few decades, and you can find it at farmers’ markets and higher-end grocery stores. 

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Iceberg

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Iceberg lettuce is one of the most popular varieties around, and a lot of this comes down to texture: While iceberg lettuce doesn’t boast much flavor, it’s got a crispiness that many other greens lack. Thanks to its high water content, iceberg lettuce doesn’t pack many calories, but it’s not particularly high in other nutrients either. 

Mache

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Mache, also known as corn lettuce or rapunzel, is a small and tender variety of lettuce that has soft, dark green leaves. It’s high in vitamin C and is known for its distinct sweet taste. Mache is native to Europe, where it’s popular both raw and cooked. 

Recipes to try: A Simple Salad

Mesclun 

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Mesclun’s name derives from mesclom,  the Provençal term for “mixture,” and is comprised of various greens such as arugula, endives, and young lettuce. The tender greens are typically used as a salad base and are also referred to as spring mix. 

Mizuna

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Also known as Japanese mustard greens or spider mustard, mizuna has a mildly peppery taste, like a less intense version of arugula. It’s been cultivated in Japan for millennia and is popular in soups, stir-fries, and hot pots. The glossy greens peak from early spring to late summer. 

Radicchio 

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Radicchio, a cultivar of chicory, is best known for its red leaves and spicy, bitter taste. It’s popular in Italian cuisine, where it’s used in salads, grilled, and mixed into pasta dishes. 

Romaine

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Like iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce features a crisp texture but has a higher nutritional density, making it a favorite in sandwiches and Caesar salads. Romaine lettuce grows narrow heads and has a higher tolerance for heat than other varieties. However, commercial romaine lettuce has been linked to a string of E. coli outbreaks, so exercise caution. 

Watercress

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Watercress gets its name from its semi-aquatic growing nature and is considered both an herb and a green. It has a peppery flavor, can be served fresh or wilted, and is used to liven up soups, sandwiches, and salads.