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What’s in Your Salad?
Today’s grocery stores and farmer’s markets are brimming with a variety of locally-grown lettuces and salad greens, making the boring side salad a thing of the past. No need for recipes – whether creating a whole meal or adding colour to your plate, a fabulous salad can be as simple as tossing a couple of complimentary flavours together with nutritious greens.
Despite the wide variety available, choosing greens for your next salad doesn’t have to be challenging. One way to experiment is to try one of the prepared mixes on the market. Also called mesclun or spring mix, they are easy to use and often contain a variety of arugula, mixuna, frisee (curly endive), radicchio, spinach, oak leaf, red chard, red mustard or other young salad greens. You can even try mixing mesclun with your favorite lettuce for a simple, yet tasty change.
Although most types of salad greens have similar nutritional value, there are some differences. Eating a variety of foods from day-to-day is one way to give your body the building blocks it needs to maintain health. And what better way to do this than by treating yourself with a refreshing and flavourful salad on a hot summer day.
Head lettuce (Iceberg)
This is the most commonly used type of lettuce because of its crisp texture, mild taste and long shelf life in the fridge. However, despite its popularity, iceberg lettuce contains the fewest nutrients and the least amount of flavour compared to other lettuce varieties.
Boston lettuce (Butterhead, Bib)
Boston lettuce has mild tasting and pliable, cupped leaves that work well in salads, especially with delicate dressings, in sandwiches, or as a bed for other dishes. Bib lettuce tends to have smaller, more flavourful leaves.
Leaf lettuce (Loose Leaf, Red Leaf)
Leaf lettuce has a tender, sweet flavour that makes it versatile for any salad. The green and red tip varieties taste similar and can be used interchangeably. Leaf lettuce has numerous varieties and works well in gardens and shallow windowsill or balcony planters. Red leaf lettuce has the highest vitamin A content.
Romaine has dark green, flimsy leaves and a stronger flavour than iceberg. In the centre are pale, sweet, crispy leaves. It is most commonly known as the main ingredient in Caesar salad but Romaine lettuce is very versatile and can be paired with orange segments and toasted almonds for a refreshing summer-time snack. Its hearty texture can hold up to any type of dressing, from a light vinaigrette to a heavy blue cheese. Romaine has the highest folate content and is also a good source of vitamins A and C.
Spinach has a hearty flavour and creamy texture that works well alone in a salad or mixed with other types of greens. Like romaine, it can be combined with a variety of flavours, from the bold taste of hard-boiled eggs with creamy dressing to the delicate taste of strawberries with vinaigrette. Spinach has the highest vitamin K and potassium contents.
Endive (Belgian, Frisee)
Endive has curly leaf ends and bitter flavour, with the inner leaves being paler, milder and more tender. Endive has a range of textures and diverse uses, from hors d’oeuvres to salads to adding visual interest to dishes.
Watercress (Garden cress)
Watercress has a bright peppery flavour and is part of the mustard family. With age, cress becomes sharper in taste. It can be used fresh in salads or sandwiches, lightly wilted in soup, or as a garnish. Since it is very perishable, it is best used on the day of purchase. Watercress has the highest vitamin C content.
Nutritional information taken from the Canadian Nutrient file from the Health Canada website: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca. Nutrient content also varies depending on growing season, soil conditions and length of storage.
Angela Hubbard, RD is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition consultant located in Toronto, Ontario. She practices a client-centered and evidence-based approach with an emphasis on building healthy and sustainable relationships with food.