Lettuce is a leafy vegetable that is often used in salads and as garnish. It is part of the sunflower family Asteraceae and is mostly green and red in color. Lettuce ranges in size from 15-30 cm (6 to 12 in) and can be tightly packed or have loose curly leaves. Lettuce can be grown from seed or from steams depending on the variety. Lettuce is easily cultivated and is grown all year round. Whilst lettuce is mostly used in salads it can also be used in soups, sandwiches and sandwich like meals.
Where did lettuce originate from?
Lettuce has been traced back to a native weed that was cultivated in Egypt for the oil gained from the seeds. By 2680BC it was being selectively bred to create a leafy plant with edible leaves. Lettuce was linked with the Egyptian god Min. The cultivation of lettuce was shared with the Greeks, who then shared the leafy plant with the Romans. Both cultures cultivated and bred new varieties of lettuce. By the 1500’s the three main varieties of lettuce, head lettuce, loose-leaf lettuce and romaine (cos) lettuce, were being cultivated. Christopher Columbus was responsible for bringing lettuce to the Americas in the late 15th century. Once packaging and transporting processes improved in the 1900’s lettuce spread worldwide and can be found in almost every country.
Where is lettuce grown today?
Lettuce is grown commercially in many countries and is the only member of the Lactuca genus to be grown in this way. China is the top producer of lettuce, but most of its crops are consumed nationally and are not exported to other countries. The largest exporter of lettuce is Spain closely followed by the United States of America. Originally the largest market for lettuce was Western Europe and North America, but this changed over time with Asia, Australia and Africa becoming more competitive. The most popular types of lettuce sold today are crisp head lettuces, such as iceberg, but other lettuces are also popular, particularly the romaine varieties.
Did you know?
Certain varieties of lettuce, particularly wild varieties, are also used to produce tobacco-free cigarettes.