What's The Difference: Romaine Lettuce vs. Iceberg Lettuce

Confused about which one to use?

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ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Lettuce does not have to be a complicated ingredient to work with. These are for the most part garnishes and final touches to a dish since these are served fresh and do not need to be cooked. It does need some food preparation since lettuce is basically a raw ingredient. It needs to be rinsed, dried, and then stored properly to maintain the integrity of the leaves. Water is a lettuce leaf's worst enemy when it comes to spoilage. 

Two of the more popular kinds of lettuce is romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce

Both kinds of lettuce are considered to be heads of lettuce. Romaine and iceberg are different in that the head of the lettuce needs to be removed or cut from the stem. 

This makes this kind of lettuce unique since the stem is still intact. Both the romaine and the iceberg can be easily chopped up and tossed with your choice of dressing since both kinds are hearty enough to handle heavy and cloying dressings. 

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If you're not sure which is the kind of lettuce is best for your kind of salad or recipe, here are the differences that can make you rethink about using one over the other kind: 

Photo by Patrick Martires
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1 Romaine lettuce is a category of lettuce. Iceberg lettuce falls under the crisphead lettuce category. 

There are five kinds of lettuce: crisphead, butterhead, romaine or cos, leaf or loose-leaf, and stem lettuce. Crisphead lettuce such as iceberg lettuce are round heads of lettuce with tight leaves. Iceberg in particular has pale, translucent green leaves in that tight head. It's called iceberg lettuce not because of its icy appearance compare to other lettuce but because it was the only kind of lettuce to survive cross-country travel before the advent of refrigerated vehicles. Back then, when you wanted lettuce, iceberg was the kind you would get. 

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Romaine on the other hand is a head of lettuce with crisp, bright green leaves. This lettuce grows tall and upright from the ground. The leaves are attached to the center stem by thick but tender stems and have intensely bright green leaves that gradually pale towards the stem.  

2 Romaine is slightly bitter. Iceberg is refreshingly neutral in taste. 

Beyond the differing green colors of these two lettuce heads, the romaine lettuce is slightly bitter in taste. It's not an unpleasantly strong taste but it does have a bitterness that pairs well with flavorful dressings that are salty, tangy, and even sweet. It's great when paired with dressings such as the famous Caesar salad dressing that it is commonly associated with. 

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The iceberg lettuce meanwhile is moderately flavorless. This may sound like a negative aspect for an ingredient, especially a salad, but this neutrality in flavor is what makes it perfect for strong-flavored dressings. While it may be one of, if not, the least nutritious salad greens, it's fantastic with heavy dressings that cling to the lettuce leaves and enhances those flavors instead of being the star.  

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3 Romaine lettuce can be cooked. Iceberg is best served fresh from the refrigerator. 

You might have heard that it can be done but have you ever tried to roast or even cook lettuce before? It sounds rather weird to "cook" lettuce but you can with a hearty head of romaine. This delivers a delicious charred flavor to your salad that you can't get any other way! You can do it in an oven, grill, or even a ripping hot pan on the stovetop. 

Iceberg meanwhile is very watery lettuce and is best served when ice-cold from the refrigerator. This ensures that the lettuce stays super crisp.  

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

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