A salad is a dish that contains various kinds of fresh vegetables tossed in a sauce or ‘dressing.’ Fruits, meats, cheeses, and croutons may also be added. Raw or cooked, chilled or warm, salad indeed can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. But, although salads are relatively easy to make, some are looking for instant yet healthy access to these foods while they’re not at their homes. For some, it can be also expensive to buy several salad ingredients. Thus, to solve this struggle, ready-to-eat salads were born in Europe in the early 1980s. Since then, they have become popular in the markets.
A ready-to-eat salad is a pre-packaged salad that you can buy in stores. It is made for convenience, since you don’t have to buy each component and prepare them yourself. With salad greens, the dressing is separately encased to prolong its shelf-life. But, in the case of the others, such as potato, tuna, bean, egg, fruit, and dessert salads, the dressing is already mixed with the main ingredient. Anyhow, salads can be enjoyed at any point during a meal or at any time of the day. Appetizer salads are small portions of light salads that can stimulate the appetite. Side dish salads are heartier salads that compliment the main dish. Main dish salads are heavy salads that are usually composed of meat, fish, pasta, beans, cheese, and/or eggs. Dessert salads are sweet salads that are usually composed of fruit, gelatin, sweeteners, and/or whipped cream.
Binomial Name: Varied
Ready-To-Eat Salad Trivia
- Ready-to-eat salads are the second fastest-selling item in the United States.
- Potatoes and lettuce, which are major components of ready-to-eat salads, are the two most consumed vegetables in the United States.
- Nowadays, you can craft your own ready-to-eat salad mixes. It is currently popular in the market, especially in gourmet stores.
Ready-To-Eat Salad Buying Guide
Buying ready-to-eat salads is relatively easy. They’re found anywhere and it’s also easy to tell the fresh ones from those that aren’t. Still, here are some basic guidelines on how to choose the best ones:
- The greens should be vibrant and crisp. Avoid the ones that are starting to wilt or have wilted, and discard the ones that have yellow or brown spots.
- Avoid packaging that is watery.
- Generally speaking, the darker the salad green, the more nutrient-dense it is. Thus, those that are intensely colored, such as spinach and kale, have high amounts of vitamins and minerals like A, C, calcium, and iron. Contrastingly, pale-colored greens like endive and iceberg lettuce have lower nutrition. Still, they’re all nutritious, hydrating, low in calories, and high in fiber.
- If possible, buy organic salads as they’re not just sweeter and more nutritious, but they’re kinder to the planet as well.
- As always, ready-to-eat salads from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic with lesser pesticides, and you’ll be able to meet and help your community.
Ready-To-Eat Salad Production & Farming in Texas
The production of ready-to-eat salads has been prolific and in-demand since the late 19th century. As a matter of fact, they’ve become more and more common in markets, even though they require substantial capital investment not only in plants but also in machinery. Thus, cultivation methods must be paired with sustainable practices. One example would be the use of manufacturing bags. The packaging must allow specific respiration rates of the products inside as this process is extremely important to maintain the cold chain of packaged salad products. Little variation with regards to the ideal temperature can degrade the quality of the ready-to-eat salads.
Other than that, growing the components of ready-to-eat salads in Texas is relatively easy even though nearly all of them are cold season crops that thrive in temperatures between 40 and 70ºF. The trick is really to plant them at the right time and protect them from the hot summer days. Salad greens’ seeds are usually planted between late September and October, while potatoes are usually between February and early March. Both perform well in rich and loamy soil that is abundant in organic matter. Salad greens should also be harvested from time to time, using sharp scissors rather than your hand, so that the plant will continue to reproduce. Meanwhile, you can check on each of the ready-to-eat salad components here at our Texas Real Food Promptuary to know more about growing each variety.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA.
Unfortunately, all the possible components of ready-to-eat salads are on the 2020 Dirty Dozen List. Strawberries rank first, followed by spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes.
Generally speaking, leafy or salad greens are susceptible to pests. That’s why they are often grown with high amounts of pesticides. And, it’s not something that can just be washed away with water. Even after a thorough cleaning, residues remain on the crop. Lettuce, the dominant component of ready-to-eat salads, is most likely to retain pesticide contamination. During the testing period for the 2012 Dirty Dozen List, they found 78 different pesticides on them.
In addition, the USDA recalled almost 1,800 pounds of chicken-containing ready-to-eat salad mixes in October 2018 due to the threat of Listeria and Salmonella contamination. The recalled products were distributed not only throughout Texas but also in Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
Nearly all the major components of ready-to-eat salads thrive in cold climates. In Europe, Italy is the largest consumer per capita of bagged fresh vegetables, including ready-to-eat salads. The United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany ranks next. Nevertheless, lettuce remains to be the prevailing product, accounting for over three-quarters of the production. It is then followed by wild rocket, spinach, and Swiss chard.
In the United States, ready-to-eat salads remain to be the second-fastest selling item in stores, followed by fresh-cut vegetables. Potatoes and lettuce are the two most consumed vegetables in the country, with California and Arizona being the leading producers. In Asia, China, Japan, and Korea are the leading consumers and producers of ready-to-eat salads.
Ready-to-eat salads are commonly packaged in clear containers that permit specific respiration rates. They are minimally processed, which means that the greens are only cut, washed, mixed, and packed along with the dressing.
Enjoying Ready-To-Eat Salads
As the name suggests, ready-to-eat salads are ready for consumption. It is unnecessary to wash the greens before eating because they have been washed and/or cooked at the industrial level prior to selling. However, some consumers remain suspicious and still wash them anyway. Nevertheless, salads can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Depending on the type, it can be a stand-alone meal, a snack, a dessert, and a side dish.
The shelf life of ready-to-eat salads really depends on the type of vegetable used and the storage conditions. Commercially prepared ones usually last between 1 to 2 weeks, since they are minimally processed for a longer shelf life. When you get home, these salads should be kept in the refrigerator, where it would last for up to 5 days.
It’s a little strange and untraditional to cook ready-to-eat salads, but there is certainly no reason for you not to enjoy them cooked. Salad greens may be stir-fried, stewed, steamed, or sautéed. But, just remember to cook them lightly and quickly – a minute or so will do. Meanwhile, fruit-based or dessert salads can be also cooked and turned into a sweet sauce.
Salad greens, the common and dominant component of ready-to-eat salads, are generally low in calories. Not to mention that their calories are mainly composed of water and fiber – not sugar. They’re also low in fat and have a considerable amount of protein per calorie. But, salad greens are mostly noted for their vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. They’re high in vitamins C, A, and K, folate, manganese, iron, and calcium.