What's the Deal with Heirloom Lettuce?

We hear plenty about heirloom tomatoes and heirloom beans, but lettuce? Not so much. We're seeing it pop up in more and more places, from chain restaurants to mainstream grocery stores, and we've become big fans.

We find the heirloom lettuce from Earthbound Organic to be especially good. In addition to the petite heads (left), they sell a mix of heirloom leaves. If you like a mix of crunchy and tender bites in your salad, you have to check it out.

So, what is heirloom lettuce? And can fancy lettuce really taste that much better than a head of romaine? Yes, actually. For starters, this is a great tutorial on what qualifies produce as heirloom:

Heirloom, Heritage... What Does it Mean?

Put simply, heirloom lettuces are old varieties that have been around for generations but are not commercially produced. In the same way that you see black beans and navy beans but not Mayacobas in the store, you can get green leaf, red leaf, Boston, and romaine lettuces but not Flashy Troutback (don't you want that in your salad?!).

Your local farmers market likely sells more obscure varieties of lettuce, but in the middle of winter, when many markets are bare, these packaged brands are a great bet. We like how there's a mix, so you aren't just getting one taste or texture. The Earthbound Organic mix has little, crispy, pale green leaves that look like itty bitty romaine and big, purple-tinged leaves that are almost meaty.

Here's the thing: If you get a "mix" at a store, it's usually a mix of baby greens—all delicate and soft. We've found heirloom mixes to have crunch as well as deep flavor. You get the best of both worlds.

Anyone know of another store-bought heirloom option?

Related: Why You Should Eat More Iceberg Lettuce

(Image: Fresh Direct)

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