STEAKS are juicy and hearty, covered in sauce and served with a smattering of vegetables, but now home cooks and chefs are challenging our concept of "steak" by swapping meat for a chunky slice of cauliflower, eggplant and even the humble iceberg lettuce.
Lettuce steak is another evolution for the lettuce landscape.
These days it's common to see lettuce used in place of bread or a tortilla, or in an abundant supermarket display of bagged salads, featuring a range of shapes, colours and textured leaves.
According to the Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook, 70 per cent of Australian households purchased head lettuce in 2018, buying an average of 746g of head lettuce per shopping trip.
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Harvest to Home reports that the average consumer spend and quantity of fresh salad leaves has increased over the past year.
With Australian consumers embracing lettuce innovations and new ways to eat lettuce, it's an exciting time for this particular vegetable, Rijk Zwaan's retail and trade manager, Frances Tolson, said.
"There are so many reasons to love lettuce," Ms Tolson said.
"Top quality and fresh leaves are available in colourful salad mixes.
"And Baby Cos varieties, like our new Tendita RZ variety, are being used in innovative ways such as edible spoons filled with tapas delights," Ms Tolson said.
"Through our efforts to reduce packaging, whole head lettuce with their natural external 'wrapper' leaves, are making a comeback since they offer great value and freshness for savvy consumers.
"We are starting to think about lettuce differently - it's certainly not just a leaf on a sandwich anymore."
Vegetable seed company, Rijk Zwaan, is breeding new lettuce varieties that are not only meeting consumer demands in terms of taste, convenience, nutrition, and aesthetics.
It's new varieties are bred with sustainability in mind and offer benefits for the entire chain.
This includes resistance breeding, improving yields and reliability, and natural traits that help to reduce food waste.
Following more than a decade of conventional breeding work, Rijk Zwaan developed the Knox trait, which delays the browning of cut surfaces.
Less than a year after its release, Knox won the 2017 Fruit Logistica Innovation Award for its potential to reduce food waste, and was also awarded the Ausveg Innovation Award for Excellence in 2018.
With the move towards fresh convenience, Knox has been bred into the Cos variety Tuccadona RZ, which offers advantages for processors.
The market is also seeing more Salanova varieties with Knox, giving growers and consumers more scope to customise their salad leaf blends.
"Salanova is re-invigorating the Australian salad market with its evenly proportioned, bite-sized leaves," Ms Tolson said.
"These days, bagged salads keep getting better and staying fresher for longer with blends of sweet, crispy, crunchy and tender leaves all from our range of 'one-cut ready' Salanova varieties.
"We are very excited to see our butter leaf varieties creating premium blends in the supermarkets too.
"Our goal is to help our customers increase consumption by creating a positive consumer experience with good varieties grown well."
Other lettuce innovations include varieties tailor-made for the salad bar and sandwich market, with leaves specifically designed to retain their texture and crunch with both acidic and hot ingredients.
The larger Crunchy Cos varieties like Coronita RZ and Verodita RZ are being used in place of tacos and flatbread wraps, offering healthier and gluten-free lettuce options for on the go products.
The smaller Crunchy varieties have inspired a new trend called "snack lettuce".
"The world of lettuce is exciting," Ms Tolson said.
"Lettuce is not a leaf on the side of the plate anymore, it's now the feature.
"Whether it's a Cos leaf wrapped around chicken and salad, served up as tapas, an iceberg wedge that's been topped with your favourite protein or a simple tossed salad - lettuce is making a comeback."
For more information about Rijk Zwaan's lettuce innovations, visit rijkzwaan.com.au/sustainability
- Copy supplied by Rijk Zwaan.