During the open days last week, Enza Zaden put all of their outdoor lettuce crops in the spotlight. The most important leafy vegetable, iceberg lettuce, had all of its varieties shown, just as the varieties with market potential that will be tried out on a large scale next year. Enza Zaden also sees a future for the more flavourful romaine lettuce varieties that could be seen on many plots.
Plot with lettuce types and varieties of Enza Zaden.
For Enza Zaden, lettuce, after bell pepper, tomato and cucumber is in the top four of more than 30 crops regarding turnover. That’s why they put much effort into their improvement programme. “We improve our varieties on shelf life, all necessary resistances, and strength against inner marginal blight,” says cultivation advisor Fokke Hoeksma. “The Eduardo variety is very successful, it’s suitable for both processing and the fresh market, so this variety can go both ways. It has a long growing stage, from spring until autumn, and it has a good shelf lie, partly because it grows so slowly. A nice addition to Eduardo is Elmundo, a reliable summer variety with closed heads that can be quickly harvested. The new variety Gonzalo is meant for summer cultivation in sandy soil. The variety remains compact and is strong against marginal blight, and tests have shown it has a long shelf life in storage, in part because of the greener bottom.”
Romaine lettuce has more colour than iceberg lettuce. Pictured is little gem with green and yellow insides.
Many innovations can be found in plots with types of romaine lettuce, which are experiencing growing popularity. In the Netherlands, various varieties can be found on the shelves of supermarket chains Albert Heijn, Lidl and Jumbo. Romaine lettuce contains more dry dust compared to iceberg lettuce, making it crunchier and more flavourful. It’s an important development for Enza. “We are looking forward to the future and are ready for it,” Fokke says.
Anthocyanin gives colour to romaine lettuce varieties
Migration of lettuce
On the European market romaine lettuce is already very popular in the UK, Spain and Germany. The type is gradually becoming better known in the Netherlands, France and Scandinavia. “Originally it’s from the Mediterranean. It’s a primal type of lettuce. People have been working on improvement programmes for a relatively short time now. Improvement in butterhead and iceberg lettuce started early in the previous century,” agriculturalist Jeroen Nannes says. “Nowadays that’s no longer necessary, but in the past the leaves of harvested romaine lettuce were bound together. Romaine lettuce is also known as cos lettuce, for the Greek island of Cos, from which it supposedly originated. The Romans have spread the crop over the Mediterranean, giving it its name. The Netherlands and Germany are originally butterhead and iceberg lettuce countries (under influence of fast food chains). The recent reintroduction of romaine lettuce on Northern European markets was started by migrants from Morocco and Turkey. In Eastern European countries, where proper food crops are still dominant, this lettuce is also becoming more popular. It’s an international development. Ninety per cent of our visitors comes from abroad.”
Easily harvestable baby leaves offer nearly endless variation options, and are very popular in the UK, where supermarket chains want to be distinctive with exclusive salads.
Being distinctive with lettuce
Four types are distinctive in romaine lettuce, which vary in length: large (30 cm from top to bottom), midi Cos (25 cm), mini Cos (16-17 cm) and little gems (12 cm). Various colours are bred into these by means of improvement programmes. Jeroen: “The vegetable market is dominated by green. But red colouring anthocyanin, in red cabbage for instance, is ascribed good characteristics. In the US, people are positive about that, and that translates into the lettuce. We started with faded red, but we are now succeeding in selecting leaves that are increasingly more red. We now have mono red, triple red and cherry-coloured. Moreover, we can also make variations in the type of leaf. This is especially important for a market like the UK. British supermarkets want to be distinctive with their own, exclusive type of lettuce. After all, lettuce is one of the most profitable products for supermarkets.”
The variety Ximenes, a mini Cos, has flavour potential. It is preferred by hares that manage to find the trial fields.
“Flavour is also becoming an important characteristic for selection. Our mini Cos assortment, and the varieties Ximenes and Xiomara in particular, is promising in that regard. These are clearly sweeter. It’s funny that hares seem to have strong preferences for these. They enjoy eating mini Cos types, and they ignore the lettuce in other trial fields,” Jeroen explains.
Variation in colour and leaf shape with EaZyleafs is also possible. Yield per hectare is higher than for baby leafs.
Much variation is possible with baby leafs in colours and leaf shapes. These are separate lettuce leaves that can be grown like spinach. “It’s possible to harvest mechanically. You only have to cut once and you can immediately pack the loose leaves in a bag. Commercially, however, it’s only appealing to grow it in cheaper soils. The yield per hectare, compared to heads, is much lower. That’s why we also developed EaZyleafs, compact loose heads without stone that yield loose leaves after one cut.”
Living lettuce is popular with catering services; consumers can pick the lettuce themselves.
Besides iceberg and romaine lettuce, Enza Zaden also has other types of lettuce in their assortment: butterhead lettuce, crinkly lettuce, Lollo Rossa, Lollo Bionda and green and red types of oak leaf lettuce. Enza also gave a presentation of harvested outdoor crops with cauliflower, pumpkin, broccoli, courgette, leek and all types of herbs, and also radish, of course. Enza Zaden is a market leader with radish, with the Celesta variety.
Enza Zaden presented harvested outdoor vegetables as well.
Enkhuizen, the Netherlands
T +31 (0)228 350 100
F +31 (0)228 315 email@example.com