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12 Interesting Facts About Lettuce

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Lettuce is one of the most commonly consumed vegetables around the world. The leafy green is a staple ingredient in salads and sandwiches. But beyond being a refreshing, low-calorie base for meals, lettuce has a rich history and some fascinating facts behind it.

There are many varieties of lettuce available today – Romaine, iceberg, butterhead, and loose-leaf lettuces being some of the most popular. Each type offers its own unique texture, flavor profile, and nutritional value. Keep reading to uncover 12 interesting facts about this diverse and delectable vegetable.

Interesting Facts About Lettuce

Green and White Lettuce
  1. The earliest record of lettuce cultivation dates back to ancient Egypt around 4500 BC. Paintings discovered from Egyptian tombs depict lettuce, indicating it was grown and eaten thousands of years ago. Egyptians valued the plant for its oil-rich seeds and used it for traditional medicine.
  2. The name lettuce is derived from the Latin word “lac” meaning milk. This likely refers to the white, milky fluid that oozes out of cut stems of lettuce. The white substance called latex is nutrient rich and completely harmless.
  3. Lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac in ancient times. Images from Egyptian tombs show lettuce as a phallic symbol among foods and plants associated with reproduction and sex. This may be why Romans dubbed lettuce “eunuch food” – believing it would dampen sexual urges.
  4. Lettuce was beloved by Roman emperors. Famed Roman emperor Caesar Augustus built an altar to the lettuce he deified. Fellow emperor Domitian required that iceberg lettuce be grown year-round in special greenhouses for his personal supply.
  5. Lettuce made its way to North America during the colonial era. It was likely introduced by Christopher Columbus himself, who brought seeds on his ocean voyages to grow food for the journey. The crop was well suited to hot climates and thrived across the American colonies.
  6. The first patented lettuce variety was developed in 1894 by horticulturist Alexander Livingston. The variety “Livingston’s Tennis Ball” was an early butterhead type with round, compact heads resembling its namesake sports equipment.
  7. Iceberg lettuce got its name from how it was shipped – packed in heaps of crushed ice over long railroad routes. The insulating ice kept the lettuce crisp en route across the hot American countryside to meet rising nationwide demand in the early 1900s.
  8. Romaine lettuce likely originated from the Mediterranean island of Cos – home to the ancient city-state bearing the same name. “Cos lettuces” were documented back to the Greek empire for their elongated heads and thick, succulent leaves.
  9. Lettuce is closely related to the sunflower plant. Both are members of the Asteraceae plant family characterized by flowers clustered into composite heads. Wild lettuce and domestic lettuce varieties continue to readily cross-pollinate with sunflowers.
  10. China leads global production of lettuce and leafy greens – but the United States ranks second in lettuce cultivation. California grows over 75% of leafy greens for the US domestic market across nearly 1 million acres of farmland.
  11. Lettuce leaves move via a process called nyctinasty – essentially a sleep cycle similar to humans. Leaves stand upright during the day to best capture sunlight then fold and wilt down at night as if entering a sleep state.
  12. Lettuce is rich in latex, antioxidants, vitamin K, and more – but has very few calories. A 100-gram serving contains just 15 calories while providing decent amounts of fiber, vitamin A, folate, iron, and manganese. The leafy green packs health benefits without the extra calories.


What is the scientific classification of lettuce?

Lettuce belongs to the Plantae kingdom, the Asteraceae family, and the Lactuca sativa species.

What are the main culinary uses of lettuce?

Lettuce is primarily used in salads, sandwiches, soups, and wraps. Romaine lettuce is commonly used in Caesar salads, and stem lettuce is used in Chinese cooking.

What are the main types of lettuce cultivars?

The main types of lettuce cultivars include leaf, romaine/cos, iceberg/crisphead, butterhead, summercrisp, celtuce/stem, and oilseed varieties.

What are some cultivation problems associated with growing lettuce?

Lettuce can be affected by soil nutrient deficiencies, various insects such as cutworms and aphids, as well as bacterial, viral, and fungal diseases. Weeds and herbicide-resistant weeds can also pose challenges in lettuce cultivation.

What are the nutritional benefits of lettuce?

Lettuce is a rich source of vitamin K and vitamin A, and a moderate source of folate and iron. Its nutritional content varies depending on the variety, with darker green lettuces containing higher concentrations of beta-carotene.


With a documented history stretching back millennia, lettuce has long been recognized as a wholesome food – as well as an item of fascination. This ubiquitous salad green has notable ties to ancient civilizations, royalty, love, and even deity status over the ages. And while lettuce remains a dietary staple today, there is still much more below the surface (and tucked into all those folds and crevices) of this humble leaf.

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