Originally grown by the ancient Egyptians over 6,000 years ago, lettuce has become a staple of cuisines all around the world. It is one of the easiest vegetables to grow and harvest, and is packed with nutrients you don’t want to miss out on.
Baby lettuce is a type of lettuce that has been harvested before reaching full maturity. Their leaves tend to be smaller and lighter in color than traditional lettuce since they are at an earlier stage of development. Their texture will still be crisp and tender, but the taste is much milder.
Baby lettuce varieties also tend to cook much faster than mature lettuce does, making them the perfect ingredient for quick, nutritious recipes.
Studies have been done to compare the nutritional content of baby greens and grown-up greens, and the results showed that while the nutritional content of both groups is very similar, baby greens contain higher amounts of flavonoids, vitamins C and K, folate, beta-carotene, lutein, and an eye-protecting phytochemical.
In other words, baby greens pack a punch!
This superfood is often overlooked, being thought of as a garnish rather than a standalone ingredient. However, after taking a look at its nutrient content, you may be surprised at how adding more baby lettuce to your diet can impact your health.
Baby lettuce strengthens your bones
Like most baby greens, baby lettuce offers amazing benefits to your bones, thanks to its vitamin K content. As we age, the body stores fewer nutrients in the bones, making them weaker and more prone to breaking.
Vitamin K combats bone weakness and bone diseases such as osteoporosis or brittle bone, by increasing bone mineral density. This makes bones stronger and less likely to fracture.
Baby lettuce improves eye health
The high vitamin A content in baby lettuce keeps your eyes healthy by reducing your risk of developing cataracts, as well as preventing macular degeneration. Baby lettuce also provides your body with two powerful antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin.
They protect the eye tissue from sun damage, suppress inflammation, and defend against free radicals that can lead to eye disease. They may also improve your vision!
Baby lettuce protects against free radicals
Free radicals are harmful molecules that can find their way into the body through toxic chemicals and pollutants such as cigarette smoke, air pollutants, or exposure to X-rays.
If free radicals build up in the body, they can lead to the development of heart disease, inflammatory disease, cataracts, arthritis, and cancer. Vitamin C is essential for ridding the body of harmful free radicals, and baby lettuce is a great source of it!
When going to the farmer’s market or grocery store, you may notice that the most common variety of baby lettuce is baby romaine. But, you’ll likely come across baby leaf lettuce and baby arugula too.
Whatever variety of baby lettuce you choose, expect its flavor to be milder and more tender than its mature version. It may also be lighter in color, as it has not soaked up as much sunlight as fully-grown lettuce has.
Once you’ve decided which variety of baby lettuce to buy, make sure the lettuce is fresh. First, look for any discoloration. Black or brown spots on the leaves tell you the lettuce is going bad and should be avoided.
Next, check the texture. The leaves should not feel soft or slimy to the touch. Pick a head of lettuce that feels firm and holds its shape when picked up.
Finally, you can check the lettuce’s smell. Fresh lettuce has little to no smell.
Once you’ve brought the lettuce home, give it a rinse with cold water then store it in the fridge. To keep it fresher for longer, wrap the lettuce in a paper towel. This will soak up any excess moisture and keep the lettuce from rotting too soon.
To start cooking with your baby lettuce, make sure to thoroughly wash it with cold water first. Start by removing the outer leaves and throwing them away or composting them. Next, separate the rest of the leaves from the core. Wash them with cold water, then dry them.
Once you’ve got clean lettuce, you’re ready to start cooking!
Since we’re talking about baby lettuce, it only makes sense to bring up some delicious and easy salad recipes that you can use for any occasion. If you’re in the mood for something sweet and crisp, make a simple apple cranberry salad.
Mix baby lettuce, 1 thinly sliced green apple, 2 tablespoons walnuts, dried cranberries, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. This is a perfect summer salad and a refreshing side to any meal. Add in slices of grapefruit for a tangier flavor.
Another colorful salad you can try is a strawberry and brie salad. Mix baby lettuce, sliced strawberries, and crumbled brie. For a sweet dressing, combine balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
To impress your guests with something more complex, make a spring mix salad. Mix baby lettuce, carrot shavings, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled feta or goat cheese, halved cherry tomatoes, and blueberries. Top it all off with a honey mustard dressing.
These beautiful salads can add a pop of color to your meal, as well as bring indispensable health benefits to the table. If making a salad isn’t your style, simply add baby lettuce to burgers, sandwiches, or even smoothies to incorporate more nutrients into your daily diet.