DIFFERENT TYPES OF
LETTUCE IN THE UK
Lettuce has been cultivated for more than two thousand years and over that time many different types have developed. In the UK we grow and consume four principal types of lettuce and within each type there are many, many different varieties.
The four groups are known as Cos (Romaine), Butterhead, Loose Leaf and Crisphead (almost exclusively known as Iceberg) lettuces. Each one has its own particular taste and texture and differing nutritional values. Some lettuces also keep better than others and all these characteristics are described in detail below.
This type of lettuce dates back further the other three and is still one of the most popular lettuces in the UK. It is a key ingredient of the famous dish Caesar Salad. In the UK it is commonly called Cos lettuce although in France and the USA it is called Romaine – there is no difference between the two other than the different names.
The typical Cos lettuce has upright leaves which form a relatively tight head. The inner leaves are a much lighter green compared to the outer leaves because the sun has not reached them so easily. As far as nutrition is concerned this type is high in nutrients but only in the outer green leaves, the inner whiter leaves have almost no nutrient value at all. The inner leaves are crisp and crunchy with very little taste, the outer leaves are softer and have a sharp and sweet, slightly earthy taste.
For many years lettuce has not only been eaten raw but often quickly cooked, mainly grilled and Cos stand up to cooking better than all the other types.
Lettuce is a plant which does not like excesses of heat but the Cos is better than all the other types at growing in warmer conditions. As far as growing is concerned the Cos lettuce has no major drawbacks and is easily cultivated if a few basic rules are followed.
For descriptions, with pictures, of the 15 most popular Cos lettuce varieties in the UK click here.
A butterhead lettuce can be recognised by its soft leaves which are arranged rather like the petals of an old English rose. Often the centre has a much crisper head but nothing as crisp as iceberg or the average Cos. The leaves have lots of taste to them and overall are sweet.
One key advantage of butterhead lettuces is their ability to withstand cold temperatures. Several varieties can be planted in the autumn for harvest in spring much earlier than most other lettuce varieties. There are many old varieties still available although in the 1950s the butterhead lettuce (and to some degree the Cos) was overshadowed almost completely by the ubiquitous Iceberg type lettuces. In the 90s though the butterhead lettuce started the comeback because of its superior taste, appearance and nutritional value.
Not only are butterhead lettuces tasty but they are easier to grow and faster to mature compared to Cos and Iceberg types. Their ability to withstand cold temperatures is also accompanied by an ability to withstand higher temperatures compare to the other types. So just a couple of varieties of butterhead lettuce and with a bit of planning you can be eating your very own lettuce for seven months of the year.
For descriptions, with pictures, of the 8 most popular Butterhead lettuce varieties in the UK click here.
Loose leaf lettuce varieties do not have a heart, rather they have rows of leaves loosely arranged around the centre. Unless your appetite for salad is rather large the leaves, rather than the whole lettuce, are harvested as and when needed which allows more leaves to grow.
The beauty of loose leaf lettuce is the vast array of colours, textures, shapes and tastes. Probably the best way to grow loose leaf salads for the beginner is to buy a packet of mixed seeds. Mixing different types of loose leaf lettuce together for a salad allows you to cut a few leaves from each plant and gives them the chance re-grow.
For descriptions, with pictures, of the 10 most popular Loose Leaf lettuce varieties in the UK click here.
We have never had any success with growing Iceberg lettuce in the UK which can rival anything on offer in the supermarkets. For this reason we're not going to offer any advice on this variety of lettuce. Please email us if you have ever grown a good Iceberg lettuce in the UK.