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Organic Bound

Myth Buster: Why Romaine Can Peel


December 2013

Have you ever encountered romaine lettuce that peeled a little? Last winter, some people speculated that growers had suddenly started to coat lettuce in plastic. The real story is much less sensational…and much more interesting.

But why would lettuce peel like that?

  • Like most living organisms, lettuce leaves have a very thin surface layer of cells called the epidermis. As with humans, this outer “skin” helps the lettuce plant regulate its moisture, temperature, etc.
  • When it’s very cold in our winter growing regions, nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing, causing ice crystals form inside the lettuce leaves and separating the epidermis from the rest of the leaf. This is called epidermal peel. Just like when we get a sunburn on our skin, the lettuce's skin blisters and peels. 
  • This condition doesn’t affect the flavor or safety of the lettuce, but there’s a chance that affected leaves won’t last as long as undamaged leaves would.

Mother Nature can be both generous and challenging! As organic farmers, we’re grateful for her gifts, but we also have to deal with her challenges — like cold snaps in normally warm winter growing regions.

So this winter, if you ever get some lettuce that seems like its skin is peeling, remember this little farming lesson and amaze your friends with your deep botanical knowledge! 

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