Yes, there’s more to salads than just lettuce. (That said, there’s like a million different types of lettuce.) There are plenty of different salad leaves, each one different in taste, texture, use, and nutritional content. And if you’re going to commit to eating healthy this month (or this year—good for you), you might as well get to know them. We’re here to help you keep at this lifestyle. So here’s our guide to the most common salad leaves easily available in the supermarket:
Arugula are small, flat, lacy, frilly leaves. Also called rocket, they can be long and spiked or short and round, but are always dark green. Arugula have a peppery, almost bitter taste; and sometimes have mustard-y notes. It works even with the simplest salads, but it best complements brighter, tangier dressings and bolder ingredients. It’s not high on the nutrition scale; though if you’re counting calories, it’s only 6 a cup.
Cabbages are some of the most versatile of veggies. They can be enjoyed cooked or raw, and can meld seamlessly into different dishes. Their leaves are crisp, and have a sharp, bitter flavor. Either whole, cut up, or thinly sliced, they make for a great salad base.
Green Ice Lettuce
Green Ice Lettuce have a satisfying crunch, thanks to their vibrant green, ruffly leaves. As far as salad greens go, they have a pretty mild flavor. But their dullness makes them great canvasses for almost any dressing. And if you’re tired of making salads, you can stick them into a sandwich or a burger, too.
Sure, iceberg lettuce has a bad rap for its low nutritional value. But the neutral-tasting, crunchy, pale-green leaves are probably the only acceptable choices for chopped salads and wedge salads. They have a longer shelf life, too, so you don’t have to worry if you decide to enjoy a few cheat days in between salads.
Lollo Rosa Lettuce
Lollo Rosa Lettuce are frilly, green-red loose-leaf lettuces. They have a mild flavor, with a bitter, nutty aftertaste. They’re mostly used to add texture, color, and volume to salads. So we recommend partnering them with more pungent salad leaves, crunchier vegetables, and more flavorful sauces. Alternatively, their pliable leaves can be used as wraps.
Apart from the ubiquitous Caesar salad, romaine lettuce is a favorite for summer salads. It has long, green, stiff leaves, and a thick, crunchy center rib. It’s succulent and has a grassy, slightly bitter taste, so it can stand up to both light and heavy dressings (though it’s typically used with the latter). Known as a power food, romaine lettuce is rich in Vitamins A and K, as well as several B Vitamins and folic acid. Try grilling it for an added depth of flavor from the char, which also sets up the leaves’ crunchiness.
Forget all the naysayers—the hype behind kale is real. The broad, ruffled leaves have a mild, earthy flavor, which slightly differs depending on the type of kale you have. It’s one of the more nutritious salad leaves in this list; high in Vitamins A, C, and K. Kale is also multi-purpose. Aside from salads, you can use them for soups, pasta, and even smoothies.
Spinach offers the highest all-around nutrition in this list. It’s packed with potassium, iron, and Vitamins A and K. (Though, it doesn’t give you enough iron to go Popeye.) It’s characterized by tender, dark green leaves that have a light herbal taste. Spinach is a staple in salads that have sweet ingredients (e.g. fruit or candied nuts).