Your Health

What’s The Matter With Iceberg Lettuce?

There was a time when supermarkets were full of only iceberg lettuce. It seems unimaginable, now, that our favorite romaine, frisee, endive, boston and red leaf lettuces were nowhere to be found at our local grocery store. These days we’re seeing not only more of these at the supermarket, but also heirloom varieties at farmers’ markets. The reason: taste and nutrition. Iceberg lettuce, quite frankly, doesn’t offer much in the way of nutritional value–or taste.

iceberg lettuce

Crisphead lettuce was called “iceberg” because it was shipped from Salinas, CA on trains packed in ice.

Of all the lettuce varieties iceberg lettuce has the most water and the least amount of % Daily Value of nutrients:

  • 2% Iron
  • 5% Vitamin C
  • 10% Vitamin A
  • 2% Calcium
  • 1g Protein

So while it’s great that we now have a much wider array of lettuces to choose from, it begs the question: how did we ever get to the point where all we had available was iceberg lettuce?

Fresh Express Gives Birth to Iceberg Lettuce

Before modern refrigeration it was difficult to get lettuce to far-flung destinations. it was common to sell it very close to where it was grown. Crisphead lettuce, on the other hand, could stay crisp and seemingly fresh for long periods of time. Around the 1940s Bruce Church, the founder of Fresh Express, decided that he would ship Crisphead lettuce to every corner of the country. It was shipped on trains packed in ice–and came to be known as “iceberg” ever since.

Read more on the history of iceberg lettuce here.

So does iceberg lettuce deserve a place at our table anymore? Or will you kick it out for good? Before you do consider that small amounts of it in an otherwise leafy salad mix can add a very nice crunch. And can even make it easier to get those tender greens onto your fork.

Some say iceberg lettuce is empty of nutritional value–that it has so little to offer in the way of vitamins and minerals. But to be fair it does have some nutritional value, albeit small.

Laura’s Take

Start asking for heirloom red iceberg lettuce. At least it has some extra phytonutrients to go with the crunch. Or, better yet, grow some heirloom varieties of lettuce in your own garden.

Seed Savers Exchange has a great selection of heirloom seeds. Check out their lettuce collection here.


About Laura

Laura is passionate about food from real farmers and artisans. She lives with her husband in Grand Rapids on the river. Sometimes it flows over, but mostly she is greeted by the ducks, geese and her neighbor's chickens. They like to hop up on her windowsill and eat the spiders. Yay! She is the co-founder of Two Sister Organics, a natural and organic skin care company, and Eating Local & Organic.

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