Nutritional eustress such as salinity or nutrient stress applied in soilless systems, is a convenient pre-harvest factor efficient in modulating the phytochemical components of horticultural crops, by triggering defensive mechanisms and accumulating plant secondary metabolites in plants tissues.
Nevertheless, genetic material (cultivars with different pigmentation) dictates lettuce metabolites and physiological response to extrinsic eustress, with red leaf cultivars being highly nutrient packed notwithstanding the stress. Product quality can be improved equally by applying several cuts, a practice proven to increase bioactive compounds accumulation.
In a recent study, the effects of four salinity levels (1, 10, 20 and 30 mM NaCl) on green and red pigmented Salad Bowl lettuce in two successive harvests, cultivated in a floating raft system, were analyzed. The morphological parameters, mineral composition, leaf gas exchanges, bioactive compounds, and antioxidant activity of both cultivars were assessed.
The green cultivar exhibited superior crop productivity but was more prone to salinity effect than the red cultivar. Irrespective of cultivar and cut order, the net photosynthesis decreased with increasing salinity in the nutrient solution. The second cut incurred higher dry biomass, greater accumulation of most minerals and higher photosynthetic activity. In red lettuce, 20 mM NaCl proved adequate eustress to increase phytonutrients and beneficial minerals (K, Ca, and Mg) with minimal loss of yield.
Mild salinity and sequential harvest have proven effective pre-harvest tools in positively modulating the quality of lettuce. Eustress interaction with genotype was demonstrated as a promising field for future breeding programs targeting select genotypes for agronomic application of eustress to improve the nutraceutical value of vegetable crops.