Sometimes, with all the other colorful vegetables, fruits, meats and toppings that dress a salad, the base ingredient – lettuce – can be easily forgotten. But this crisp, cool vegetable is one important crop for the United States. In fact, in terms of production value, it is the leading vegetable crop in the nation. Behind China, the United States is the second largest lettuce-producing country, with production totaling 8.7 billion pounds in 2010.
The value of lettuce exports of the U.S. in 2010 rang in at an impressive $439.3 million. The country shipped 327,628 metric tons of the green vegetable, with the biggest share (86 percent) of exports going to Canada, followed by Taiwan and Mexico. Behind Spain, the United States is the second- leading lettuce exporter.
California and Arizona take the lead as the nation’s top lettuce-producing states, churning out about 98 percent of commercial domestic output. Production occurs year-round through a seasonal sequence between Arizona and California, as well as in commercial greenhouse hydroponic facilities. In these facilities, farmers grow lettuce in just water, no soil, using mineral nutrient solutions.
Tear Into Lettuce Varieties
Discover more about the different types of lettuce
1. Boston/Bibb: This variety is delicate with pale green, soft cup-shaped leaves. Its flavor is mild and sweet.
2. Arugula: Arugula doesn’t grow in a head, but on stems. It has a slightly bitter and peppery taste, and is used widely in Mediterranean dishes.
3. Romaine: This type of lettuce is very crisp and a little bitter. It has long, narrow leaves with thick ribs and is commonly used in Caesar salads.
4. Red and Green Leaf: Leaf lettuce comes with both red and green leaves, characterized by loose, open heads and ruffly tops. The flavor is sweet and mild.
5. Iceberg: One of the most well-known lettuce varieties, Iceberg iceberg has crisp, pale green leaves that become almost white toward the center of the head. It has little flavor and almost no nutritional value.