You don't need to be an expert in lettuces to appreciate the leafy greens. But there are many types of lettuces to know -- all with different shapes, sizes and flavors. If you're interested in exploring lettuce beyond "cardboard" iceberg, then we've got the guide for you. We cover the common head lettuces and small leafy ones that might be hard to tell apart at first, but eventually you'll know your mizuna from your mache.
Most lettuces grow in heads, either tightly closed crispheads or looseleaf heads. Lettuces like arugula and mizuna grow as leaves on stems -- you'll find these sold loose or in bags or plastic boxes, oftentimes mixed with different varieties (called mesclun salad). But if you're looking to buy single variety leaf lettuces, you'll want to shop at the farmers' market, where they often keep them separated. And now is the perfect time to do so since they're in season all summer long.
Learn the different types of lettuces in the slideshow below.
Boston (a.k.a. Bibb) lettuce is delicate lettuce with pale green, soft cup-shaped leaves. The flavor is mild and sweet. Sometimes in the supermarket you will find hydroponically grown Boston lettuce, which has the benefit of having no dirt or sand in the leaves. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/photofarmer/4988502260/" target="_hplink">photofarmer, Flickr</a>.
Arugula (a.k.a. rocket) is very popular in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves have a large central lobe with smaller spiky side lobes. Arugula does not grow in a head but on stems. It has a peppery, slightly bitter taste. Try arugula on its own or mixed into salads.
Radicchio is Italian in origin. The lettuce is characterized by dark red leaves with bright white stems on a tightly packed head. The taste is bitter. Radicchio comes in two main varieties, the small cabbage-like Chioggia and oblong Treviso. Radicchio is great in mixed salads and also works well grilled. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyclonebill/5680915288/" target="_hplink">cyclonebill, Flickr</a>.
Watercress is an aquatically grown lettuce that has long hollow stems with round lobed leaves. It has a peppery taste. Enjoy it on its own, in mixed salads, or wilted into Asian soups and stir-frys.
Romaine (a.k.a. Cos) is exceptionally crisp and slightly bitter. It has long, narrow leaves with thick ribs. The most flavorful part is toward the center of the head -- this is why you will often see bags of Romaine hearts, packaged with the outer leaves removed. It's most well known in Caesar salad.
Red Leaf And Green Leaf
Leaf lettuce comes in both green and red leaves. They have loose open heads with ruffly tops and crisp stems. The flavor is sweet and mild. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/photofarmer/4988502364/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">photofarmer, Flickr</a>.
Oak leaf lettuce comes in both red and green varieties. It grows as individual lobed leaves with soft and ruffly leaves. The taste is sweet and mild, comparable to Boston lettuce. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashasusan/4323794805/" target="_hplink">asha susan, Flickr</a>.
Frisee (a.k.a. curly endive) is characterized by long and slender feathery leaves on a loose head. The taste is slightly bitter. It's commonly used in mixed salads. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cfabry/514562106/" target="_hplink">Claude Fabry, Flickr</a>.
Endive (a.k.a. Belgian endive) is characterized by an elongated pointy head with very pale green tips (or dark red tips) and white stems. The taste is bitter. It is commonly used in mixed salads. Individual leaves can be used as scoops for appetizers. It can also be cooked or grilled.
Mache (a.k.a. corn salad or lamb's lettuce) grows in a rosette shape with lobed leaves. It is tender with a mild flavor. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/calgaryreviews/5604982270/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Calgary Reviews, Flickr</a>.
Mizuna (a.k.a. Japanese mustard greens) has long lobed pointy leaves that look somewhat similar to arugula. The taste is peppery but not as strong as arugula. It is most commonly used in mixed salads. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sackton/4680819565/" target="_hplink">timsackton, Flickr</a>.
Escarole has broad, curly leaves. Its flavor is slightly bitter. Young leaves are great for salads, but more mature leaves are typically used for wilting into soups or stews
Iceberg is one of the most well known lettuces. It has crisp, pale green leaves that are almost white as you work your way to the center. Iceberg has little flavor and almost no nutritional value. A popular way to serve it is sliced into a wedge and covered with blue cheese dressing.
WATCH: Tyler Florence On Using Lettuce In Your Cooking
Tyler Florence dispels the mysteries of lettuce and its varieties.
Main photo from 305 Seahill, Flickr.