Buying a big bag of salad greens or lettuces is a great, economical way to get your veggie servings, but we've all dealt with the frustrations of opening the bag a few days later and seeing sad, wilted or even slimy leaves inside.
What's the best way to store salad greens so that they last the longest? We tried three methods to find out which was best — and there was a clear winner!
The Problem: Sad, Wilted Lettuce
Turns out that wilted lettuce is a common problem, especially when buying tender greens like mesclun and spring mix. No one wants to have to pick through gross leaves or toss out a bag just a few days after purchase. Our readers chimed in on their favorite ways to keep lettuce fresh in this post:
We Tested Three Methods
After looking at all the advice, I decided to buy a large bag of mesclun to test out three different method that supposedly keep lettuce fresh. I used mesclun because it has the tendency to wilt quickly, plus it's easy to see when that happens since the leaves get soggy and slimy. I divided the bag of pre-washed greens into three even piles and then stored them in the following ways:
Method #1: Paper Towels and Plastic Bag
This is the way many readers recommended storing lettuce. After washing and drying the leaves (cutting big leaves like romaine down is up to you at this point), the lettuce is laid out on paper towels, then rolled up and placed in a plastic bag. This method is the way I usually store my lettuce, and I pressed out as much air as possible and sealed the top before I placed it in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator.
Supposedly, the paper towels absorb excess moisture from the greens and keep them from getting slimy, and the sealed bag keeps excess air from circulating in and out, slowing down the wilting process.
Method #2: Box and Paper Towels
In the next method, I lined a plastic storage container with paper towels, dumped the lettuce in an even layer on top, and covered it with another layer of paper towels before locking down the lid. I had plenty of space in the box so the lettuce wasn't jam-packed in there.
The paper towels here serve the same purpose as with first method, but the leaves aren't packed down as tightly. A hard-sided box also protects the leaves from getting knocked around or bruised by other foods they might sit against in the refrigerator.
Method #3: A Plastic Bag and a Puff of Air
The final, and most intriguing method, came from author Dorie Greenspan. I threw the greens in a plastic produce bag, blew in a big puff of air to inflate the bag, then twisted the top and tied it close with a rubber band. Blowing in air supposedly provides enough carbon dioxide to keep the greens fresh.
What Were the Results?
So what were the results of this salad experiment?
→ 5 days: No Difference
After five days, I opened each container and dumped the greens onto a baking sheet. Then I ran my hands through the greens, looking for wilted leaves or ones that had just plain rotted. To my surprise, all the greens were looking great and you really couldn't tell the differences between them!
I repackaged everything back in their containers, using the same paper towels, and stashed everything back in the fridge.
→ 7 days: Still Fresh!
After a week, I did the same process of dumping out the greens and sorting through them. While there were a few bruised leaves in each one, again, there wasn't a big difference between each one. At this point, I'm super happy that the greens have lasted a whole week but am now wondering if there will ever be any noticeable differences!
Back into the original containers and back into the fridge everything went.
→ 10 days: Now We See Change
10 days after starting this experiment, I finally see some big changes:
Paper Towels and Plastic Bag
1. Paper Towels and Plastic Bag
The paper towels were damp but not soggy, and the inside of the bag didn't have any condensation built up. There were a good amount of slimy, rotted leaves in here though. In fact, those leaves stained the paper towels brown. I definitely wouldn't want to eat any of the salad from this batch and would just throw this out.
2. Box and Paper Towels
Onto the storage container with the paper towels. While there were a few soggy leaves in here that needed to be discarded, the rest of the leaves were still crisp and definitely edible. There wasn't any excess condensation built up in the container, and the paper towels were just very slightly damp but not soggy.
Puff of Air in Plastic Bag
3. Puff of Air in Plastic Bag
The inside of bag had a lot of condensation built up, and in some spots, a few slimy leaves were stuck there. The greens were decently crisp, but you could definitely tell that there were past their prime. I would probably only eat these greens after carefully picking out the bad leaves and maybe giving the greens another rinse and dry.
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The Winner: A Container with Paper Towels
Storing the greens in a container with paper towels was definitely the winner here. Being able to store tender greens for up to ten days is really convenient and will allow me to buy bigger amounts, saving me both time and money since larger bags are usually a better value.
The hard sides of the container really protect the greens from getting moved around or crushed like they would be in bags, and the paper towels help to absorb the excess moisture. And in my experience, the salad sold in clamshells always seems to last longer than those sold in bags, echoing what happened here.
But to be honest, the other two methods worked just fine for storing the greens for a week. Sometimes you might not have a container available, or maybe you don't like to waste paper towels. If you know you'll eat the greens in a few days, choose one of these other methods instead!
(Image credits: Christine Gallary)