Baby Leaf Lettuce – Tango

baby-leaf-lettuce-tangoBY KURT NOLTE

Tango, a beautiful lettuce variety that resembles endive, is grown in the Yuma area primarily for the baby leaf salad industry as its curly and frilly leaf edges make a favorite contrast in bagged salads and specialty markets. The bright-green color makes a gorgeous salad, especially when paired with a red leaf lettuce, and the crisp texture holds up well to a variety of salad dressings.

Tango is rich in vitamins and has a tangy flavor, but without the bitter taste. The frilly leaves of tango give salads a gourmet look and won’t assault most palates with the sharp bite that often accompanies fancy, gourmet salads.

When allowed to grow to a full-size head, the texture of tango makes it good for sandwiches since it contrasts with bread and many fillings in a way a softer lettuce won’t. Moreover, tango will retain crispness for some time, which is useful if sandwiches have to wait between preparation and consumption. Finally, appearance, flavor and texture all suit it for use as a presentation green, either edging a platter mostly for decoration, or set out ready to be used for dipping or stuffing with anything from egg salad to guacamole.
Many baby leaf greens originated in Asia. Leafy salads are a delicious way to boost the nutrition of a diet, and being so adaptable and wide ranging, they are suitable for main meals, side dishes, perfect for entertaining and great for everyday family meals.

When the lettuce is ready for harvesting, specialized mechanical harvesting machines cut up to 3 tons of baby leaves an hour. The leaves are then transferred to sophisticated processing plants where they are chilled, blended with other lettuces and packed into washed-and-ready-to-eat bags or plastic containers.

Although bagged salads have been available to the commercial food industry for decades, it took the development of a new packaging technology to bring the concept to consumers. What revolutionized bagged salads at the grocery store level was the introduction of a breathable plastic bag that preserves freshness.

Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at knolte@cals.arizona.edu or 726-3904. For additional information please visit https://extension.arizona.edu/yuma.