While there are hundred of different types of lettuce, head lettuce typically refers to whole bunches, whether compact or loose-leafed. They include iceberg, sometimes classified as crisphead; soft and rounded Boston, or butterhead; long-leafed Romaine; and loose leaf bunched, such as red leaf or green leaf. Bagged spring mixes from your local grocery contain a mix of lettuce types and baby spinach leaves as well as fresh, leafy herbs such as parsley and dill.
It's So Easy
Because most spring mix packages contain pre-washed lettuce, all you need to do is open the package and pour the mix into your salad bowl. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually recommends that you not wash bagged salad mixes in the hopes that you are making it even cleaner than it already is because there is a chance that you could introduce contaminates from your own kitchen into the mix. Head lettuce, on the other hand, requires thorough washing and spinning dry.
Unless you have a big crowd and plan to serve an entire bag of spring mix, the chances are that some of the tender baby lettuce leaves or fragile herbs will go bad in as little as one day in the refrigerator. Wash spring mix from packages you have already opened and examine the mix carefully for any rotting lettuce. Head lettuce stays fresh far longer, up to a week in your refrigerator.
Head lettuce costs less than bagged spring mix whether you eat only one type of lettuce or make your own spring mix from a few types of head lettuce and herbs. Moreover, bagged spring mix loses nutritional value more quickly than head lettuce, making it even less of a value. If you are an environmentally conscious consumer, you'll avoid bagged spring mix because it takes more energy and natural resources to produce than it does to produce head lettuce.
Make Your Own
To save money and increase freshness and nutritional value, make your own spring mix by keeping two kinds of head lettuce on hand and springs of parsley and dill stored with their stems in glasses of water in the refrigerator. If you tear the lettuce and the herbs ahead of time, but wait to wash the mix until you are ready to use it, you'll gain some of the convenience of the bagged variety as well.
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; Mark Bittman
- Foodsafety.gov: How to Handle Ready-to-Eat Bagged Produce
- Colorado State University Extension: Health Benefits and Safe Handling of Salad Greens
- Mother Jones: The Truth About Bagged Lettuce
- Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images