Lettuce Varieties

With 16 different types, salad will never be boring

  • 01 of 17

    About Lettuce

    Lettuce and Salad Greens
    Basket of Lettuce. Photo © James And James/Getty Images

    Far from the shrink-wrapped iceberg lettuce we all know so well—perfectly round and crunchy, almost all water, and able to last a long time after harvest—the multitude of lettuce varieties available at the grocery store and farmers markets offer a wide range of textures, colors, and flavors. Instead of a generic looking and tasting salad, you can make something interesting to eat and look at.

    In general, salad greens are cool weather crops, at their best in spring and early summer before high heats and long days make them bolt and turn bitter. Look for lettuce year-round in ultra-temperate climates, fall and spring in mainly temperate areas, and in the late spring through the summer months in cooler climates.

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  • 02 of 17

    Arugula (a.k.a. Rocket)

    arugula-bunched.jpg
    Arugula. Getty Images

    Arugula (a.k.a. rocket) has dark green leaves and a peppery flavor. The leaves can be long and spiked or shorter and more rounded, but they all share that dark green color.

    Wild-harvested arugula is the most pungent; look for it at farmers markets and local foods co-ops. Cultivated arugula is widely available and varies greatly in strength of flavor. In general, larger leaves tend to be stronger tasting, but if pungency is a concern, be sure to taste the batch before using.

    Use arugula alone to stand up to tangy dressings such as lemon garlic vinaigrette and bold flavors such as blue cheese, or mix it with other lettuces as an accent note. Arugula is also a great way to add a kick to hearty dishes like chicken with bread salad and arugula.

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  • 03 of 17

    Batavia Lettuce (a.k.a. French Crisp or Summer Crisp)

    Head of French Crisp Lettuce
    Red Batavia Lettuce. Photo © PhotoAlto/Laurence Mouton/Getty Images

    As one of its other names would suggest, Batavia lettuce is more tolerant of warmer weather than many salad greens. It stays crisp and doesn't bolt (flower) and turn bitter as easily as other lettuces, so is a favorite with summer gardeners who want to keep themselves in lettuce all season long. 

    Like many varieties of lettuce, Batavia comes with all green or red-tinted leaves. There isn't a taste difference between the two, so choose whichever will look best on your table. Top with a bit of honey mustard vinaigrette or a simple balsamic dressing.

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  • 04 of 17

    Belgian Endive

    Whole and Halved Endives
    Belgian Endive. Photo © Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

    These tight, compact heads are packed with flavor and crunch. While a popular way to eat endive is slowly and carefully braised to caramelized brown perfection, endive also adds a solid crunch to any salad, whether on its own or mixed with other greens. It tends to have a bit of a bitter edge, so know your audience or use them sparingly with other salad greens. 

    Since most Belgian endive is now grown indoors (it used to be grown buried in sand to keep the leaves white), it's a great option come dead of winter when you're craving that satisfying fresh-leaf crunch.

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  • 05 of 17

    Butter Lettuce

    Boston Lettuce
    Butter Lettuce. Photo © Francesca Yorke/Getty Images

    Butter lettuce is commonly available. It is a crisp-head lettuce, meaning its leaves form a compact head as it grows—although its head is much less compact than iceberg lettuce. Butter lettuce has a tender texture and large, cupped leaves that work beautifully in salads, especially with delicately flavored dressings such as buttermilk dill salad dressing or in asparagus butter lettuce salad. Look for pale green and red-tinged varieties.

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  • 06 of 17

    Chrysanthemum Greens

    Chrysanthemum Greens. Photo © Ryoji Yoshimoto/Aflo/Getty Images

    Bright and peppery, young and tender chrysanthemum greens are a tasty addition to salads. They are the green fronds from the chrysanthemum plant that grows the popular flowers, which are more commonly known as mums in some areas. They need to be young for the best flavor raw; larger, older greens will take on a bitter edge that gets tamed by cooking.

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  • 07 of 17

    Dandelion Greens

    Bunches of Dandelion at Farmers Market
    Dandelion Greens. Photo © Bill Boch/Getty Images

    Some might say it's stretching things to include dandelion greens here, but there are people who relish the sharp, bitter hit of raw dandelion. You can blanch and braise this dark leaf to tame its intense flavor, but if you like the strong taste, match it with strong acidic and/or pungent dressings.

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  • 08 of 17

    Frisée (Curly Endive)

    Frisée
    Curly Endive. Photo © Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images

    This twisted, curly, frizzled green is endive, and has all the bright bitterness and delicious crunch that goes along with that family of greens. It is best known as the base for a classic French bistro salad that includes bacon and a poached egg on top and is also delicious in a pear salad with blue cheese and walnuts.

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  • 09 of 17

    Little Gems Lettuce

    Heads of Lettuce
    Little Gems. Photo © food/Getty Images

    Little Gem lettuce is soft with just a hint of crunch. The delicate flavor is well suited to light vinaigrettes (ginger vinaigrette is lovely) and lemony dressings. Little Gems are especially delicious with thinly sliced radishes or spears of gently steamed asparagus.

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  • 10 of 17

    Mâche (a.k.a. Lambs' Lettuce)

    Lamb's Lettuce
    Mâche Lettuce. Photo © Westend61/Getty Images

    Mâche, also known as corn salad or lamb's lettuce, comes in lovely little rosettes of dark green leaves attached in groups of 4 or 5 at the roots. It has a bit more body than many lettuces and mixes well with other vegetables.

    It requires extra care when cleaning since sand and grit tend to gather in the nub of roots holding each rosette together. Give it a few extra swishes in the water to get them clean. Tradition says that a shallot vinaigrette brings out the best in mâche. 

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  • 11 of 17

    Mesclun (a.k.a. Spring Mix)

    Mesclun
    Spring Mix Salad Greens. Photo © David Marsden/Getty Images

    Mesclun means "mixed" in Provencal and is traditionally composed of several varieties of wild-harvested, young greens. Most mesclun sold today is cultivated, meaning planted as beds of mixed lettuce seeds and harvested when the leaves reach the desired size of 3 to 6 inches. Look for mixes that contain young, sweet leaves from a variety of tender lettuces—maybe a bit of curly endive for texture, some peppery watercress or arugula for bite, and a few herbs.

    Some farms and markets sell special "spicy" mixtures that have more arugula, watercress, mizuna, and mustard leaves. Mesclun is often dressed with a classic French vinaigrette, but it's a forgiving mix that works well with a wide range of dressings.

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  • 12 of 17

    Mizuna

    Salad Mustard Greens
    Mizuna. Photo © David Q. Cavagnaro/Getty Images

    Mizuna is an Asian variety of mustard greens. It has spiky dark green leaves that have a surprisingly delicate texture and delightfully peppery, even spicy kick. Try it drizzled with a light vinaigrette or a sesame seed dressing. It is also a tasty add-on in the Japanese mochi soup often eaten at New Year's.

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  • 13 of 17

    Oak Leaf Lettuce

    Red Oak Leaf Salad Greens
    Oak Leaf Lettuce. Photo © Getty Images

    As with Batavia lettuce, there are several varieties of oak leaf lettuce—green, red, bronze—but they are all loose-leaf lettuces, meaning the leaves stay loose and attached only at the base as they grow instead of forming tight, compact heads like iceberg lettuce or cabbage. They make excellent salads and work with a wide range of dressings. Discard the external leaves if they are damaged or wilted. If working with small heads, use the leaves whole. Larger leaves can be torn into bite-sized pieces when cleaning.

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  • 14 of 17

    Purslane

    Fresh Purslane
    Purslane. Photo © Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

    Purslane is often foraged; it grows wild and people pick it in meadows and parks. Lately, however, you will find it more and more at farmers markets and specialty stores. Purslane has thick, almost spongy leaves and works well with delicate herb-laced dressings or something bright like a lemon-parsley dressing.

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  • 15 of 17

    Romaine

    Head of Romaine
    Romaine Lettuce. Photo © David Murray/Getty Images

    Romaine lettuce is hale and hearty and is the ubiquitous lettuce in a Caesar salad. Its crunchy texture can stand up to any dressing, from a light gingery vinaigrette to a full-blown thick and creamy blue cheese dressing. Due to its sturdy texture, it can even be grilled

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  • 16 of 17

    Speckled Radicchio

    Head of Green Radicchio
    Speckled Radicchio. Photo © Lai Morris/Getty Images

    Of course, you can chop up brilliant magenta radicchio or its longer, leaner cousin, Treviso, to put in salads, but speckled radicchio is a real beauty. It looks and acts a bit more like "regular" lettuce with its leafier leaves and primarily green color. Plus, it has a softer, less bitter, flavor than its redder cousins. Dress with a bit of ranch for something the whole family will love.

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  • 17 of 17

    Watercress

    Fresh Cress
    Watercress. Photo © Roger Dixon/Getty Images

    Watercress has a bright, peppery flavor prized for salads and gently "wilted" preparations. It grows wild in streams in Northern America and Europe but is easily cultivated with the right irrigation. Much cultivated "watercress" is actually garden cress, which has slightly less bite and crunch than its watercress cousin.

    Whatever cress we're talking about, they're all members of the mustard family. The older they get, the sharper their flavor becomes. Use cress as soon as possible, removing any yellowed or wilted leaves. Tender stalks and roots are perfectly edible along with the dark green leaves. Try tossing with a feta vinaigrette or yogurt buttermilk dressing.