History of lettuce

Ancient history

The the ancient cultivated variety of lettuce appears to have been about 75 cm (30 in) tall and resembled a large version of the modern romaine lettuce.

These upright lettuces were developed by the Egyptians and passed to the Greeks, who shared them with the Romans, who gave it the name Lactuca, from which the English lettuce is derived.

Evidence of the cultivation of lettuce appeared as early as 2680 BC  which revealed that lettuce was initially farmed by the ancient Egyptians, who transformed it from a plant whose seeds were used to create oil into an important food crop raised for its succulent leaves and oil-rich seeds.

The plant was considered a sacred plant of the reproduction god Min, and it was carried during his festivals and placed near his images.

Lettuce was thought to help the god "perform the sexual act untiringly. Its use in religious ceremonies resulted in the creation of many images in tombs and wall paintings.

By 50 A.D., many types were described, and lettuce often appeared in medieval writings.

The 16th centuries saw the development of many varieties in Europe, and by the mid-18th century, cultivars were described that can still be found in gardens.

In 1586, Joachim Camerarius described the three basic modern lettuces – head lettuce, looseleaf lettuce, and romaine (or cos) lettuce.

Lettuce was first brought to the Americas from Europe in the late 15th century.

Between the late 16th century and the early 18th century, many varieties were developed in Europe.

Recent history

Due to its short lifespan after harvest, lettuce was sold initially relatively close to where it was grown.   Hqwever, the early 20th century saw the development of new packing, storage and shipping technologies that improved the lifespan and transportability of lettuce and resulted in a significant increase in availability.

During the 1950s, lettuce production was revolutionized with the development of vacuum cooling, which allowed field cooling and packing of lettuce, replacing the previously used method of ice-cooling in packing houses outside the fields.

In 2017, world production of lettuce was 27 million tonnes, with China alone producing 15.2 million tonnes or 56% of the world total.

In the early 21st century, bagged salad products increased in the lettuce market, especially in the U.S., where innovative packaging and shipping methods prolonged freshness.

In the United States in 2013, California (71%) and Arizona (29%) produced nearly all of the country's fresh head and leaf lettuce.

Although most lettuce grown today is used as a vegetable, a minor amount is used to produce tobacco-free cigarettes.