Lettuce is generally classified into four basic types and one of which is Romaine lettuce.
Romaine is one of the most popular varieties of lettuce in the world. It is also known as Cos, named after the Greek island of Kos where it was believed to have been originated as early as 55 B.C. When it reached Western Europe through the city of Rome, it has been called lattuga Romana in Italy and laitue Romaine in France, which both translates to “Roman lettuce.” The name was then shortened to Romaine.
Romaine lettuce is best described as a longleaf lettuce with sturdy, elongated, dark green leaves attached to their firm, white ribs down their cores. And, as the leaves grow smaller from within, they become paler in color, almost fading to white. Unlike the other varieties, romaine is heat tolerant and it is widely available all-year-round. It’s noted for its crunchy and juicy texture, along with a mild, sweet-bitter taste. Thus, it is commonly seen on salads, especially in the iconic Caesar salad where it has been the key ingredient ever since. In addition, they may also be cooked. Their thick and strong ribs, which provides a milky juice that gives romaine their slightly bitter taste, works perfectly on braises and soups.
Red Romaine Lettuce
These are Romaine lettuces that have a deep red color. It is commonly harvested prematurely, probably less than two months after planting; hence, called Baby Red Romaine Lettuce. Cultivars include Cimmaron, d’hiver, valentine, and flashy troutback. Nevertheless, since the heads of baby red Romaine are harvested early, they are more compact, tender, and crunchy. They are favored for their bite-sized features that make a great addition in baby salad mixes.
Red Romaine is also a sustainable source of nutrients. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the first varieties of lettuce to be successfully grown in space. It was chosen for the anthocyanin it provides. The pigment protects the astronauts from radiation and environmental stress. It took roughly 33 days to be harvested in the contained garden which had LED lights to support their growth.
Species: L. Sativa
Binomial Name: Lactuca Sativa L. var. Longifolia Lam.
Romaine Lettuce Trivia
- Interestingly, romaine lettuce is the most nutritious lettuce in the world! It provides more potassium, beta carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, folate, and many more.
- Romaine lettuce played a part in the Jewish ritual feast. It was served as a Maror, a type of bitter herb eaten at the Passover Seder, to symbolize the bitterness that the Egyptians suffered from the Israelites when they became their slaves.
- Romaine lettuce was also served on the tables of Persian kings; the crop is praised for its medicinal attributes.
- A pound of romaine is equivalent to roughly six cups.
- Sweet romaine, a milder and sweeter tasting variety, has red-tipped leaves.
- The 22nd day of Germinal, the 7th month in the French Calendar, was dedicated to Romaine lettuce.
Romaine Lettuce Buying Guide
- Large, even-shaped heads with broad, relatively loose leaves indicate the best-quality Romaine.
- The heads of Romaine should be firm and heavy for their size; the leaves should be tightly closed.
- The leaves should be vibrant and crisp. Avoid the ones that are starting to wilt or have wilted and dry. Furthermore, discard the ones that have yellow or brown spots.
- Check out for the tip burn. These are tan-colored spots that form around the leaf’s margins. This slight discoloration actually doesn’t hurt the lettuce’s quality, but it should still be avoided as it’s an indication that the leaves will have a lesser shelf life.
- When buying Romaine hearts or torn Romaine leaves that are packaged in cellophane bags, check the freshness date, and choose the ones that have a longer shelf life.
- If possible, buy organic lettuces. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, lettuce from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you’ll be able to meet and help your community. You’ll also get the chance to know more about the other lettuces that might suit your needs!
Romaine Lettuce Production & Farming in Texas
Romaine is a heat-tolerant, easy to grow annual plant. That’s why there is no wonder why this lettuce is favored by many Texan growers. While Romaine matures in roughly 70 to 75 days, it tends to bolt slower than other lettuce varieties.
In Texas, the seeds are usually planted in a sunny location between late September and October. They perform well in rich and sandy soil that is abundant in organic matter. It also needs lots of water and 6-8 hours of sunlight daily to produce tender, succulent leaves. Sow the seeds every three weeks for a continuous harvest. When they’re ready, cut the leaves using a sharp scissor as hand-picking may damage the plant.
Romaine is not susceptible to pests after the first frost so you can enjoy fresh, abundant, and continuous Romaine from November to early May. Homegrown Romaine contains more vitamins and minerals than the store-bought ones, and soil-grown Romaine is much more flavorful than the ones grown in a greenhouse. So, consider growing them yourself.
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.
Generally speaking, lettuce is 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. As a matter of fact, during the testing period for the 2012 Dirty Dozen List, they found 78 different pesticides on them. Thus, it is better to buy organic ones or grow them yourself to reduce the amounts of your pesticide consumption.
Romaine lettuce is a sun-loving crop. They are widely produced around the world, but China remains to be the leading producer, accounting for 55% of the world’s total production by weight. In the United States, around 71% of the Romaine lettuce is farmed in the city of Salinas in California during the summer. In the winter, 90% comes from the city of Yuma in Arizona, where they rely on Mexican laborers crossing the border.
Romaine lettuce can be sold as either whole heads or hearts, where the outer leaves are torn off the stem and packaged together. Still, both of them come in loose plastic or cellophane bags, or containers. These are packaged and priced by the bundle or by weight. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these greens in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Meanwhile, you can also buy Romaine lettuce seeds that come in pouches.
Enjoying Romaine Lettuce
Romaine has been eaten, either raw or cooked, for almost 50 centuries now. Perhaps, it’s even the oldest cultivated lettuce. Still, Romaine has been favored by many growers and salad eaters. The distinctly crisp texture, complemented by its mildly sweet-bitter taste makes them perfect for salads, sandwiches, wraps, meat beds, pastas, and more.
It is highly suggested for the Romaine lettuce to be wrapped unwashed in a loose bag lined with a bunch of paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Unwashed and properly stored, Romaine will retain its freshness for up to 10 days. If you wash and dry them, they will last between 3 and 5 days. Dressed, they will only last for 1 to 3 days.
Do not store Romaine next to ethylene-producing fruits such as apples, pears, or bananas as these will brown them prematurely. Also, it should not be frozen due to its high water content. If you freeze this lettuce and you thaw them later on, the leaves will not only wilt but it will also be extremely slimy.
Even though Romaine lettuce is traditionally eaten raw, they can also be cooked. In fact, they’re an excellent choice for all types of spring meals like spring pasta, tabouli salad, creamy polenta, spring rolls, and more! They can also be grilled, sautéed, stir-fried, braised, or mixed in your favorite soups.
Romaine lettuce is generally low in fat, sodium, and calories. Not to mention that its calories are mainly composed of water and fiber – not sugar. It also has a considerable amount of protein per calorie. But, Romaine lettuce is mostly noted for its high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. As mentioned, it is the most nutritious lettuce in the world. It’s high in vitamins A and C, along with folate, potassium, iron, and calcium. In fact, the vitamin C that Romaine provides is 5 times greater than that of iceberg lettuce. It also offers antioxidants that help prevent cancer.