It will be the first time a lettuce lays claim to the status of “superfood” because of its high levels of polyphenols – nutrients believed to protect against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, memory loss, inflammation and cancer. People typically look to blueberries, red wine and a handful of other brightly colored fruits and vegetables for polyphenols and other beneficial compounds collectively known as phytonutrients.
The problem with blueberries and many superfoods, notes Ilya Raskin, distinguished professor of plant biology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, is that they have limited growing seasons, which constricts year-round availability and drives prices up. Blueberries are also high in sugar, limiting the amount that people should consume on diets to manage diabetes.
“Lettuce is one of the most widely consumed vegetables after potatoes,” Raskin says, noting it’s also affordable, high in fiber and other nutrients and readily available year-round. He and his lab members decided to see if they could boost the polyphenol content of red leaf lettuce to match or exceed that of blueberries. The lettuce they developed using tissue cultures resulted in polyphenol levels two-to-three times higher.
Dubbed “Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce,” or RSL, for its deep red color, it delivered a significant decrease in blood glucose and insulin resistance over regular lettuce when fed to diabetic mice. Raskin published results of these lab studies in the scientific journals PLOS ONE and Nutrition.Rutgers patented RSL and licensed it to Nutrasorb LLC, a Rutgers spinoff company that specializes in enhancing phytoactive compounds in foods. Nutrasorb, in turn, granted a license to Shamrock Seeds to be the exclusive seed dealer for RSL.
The first grower to offer Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce is Coastline Family Farms of Salinas, California, which launched sales in October under its NutraLeaf trademark. Growers are not required to use the Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce name; however, Nutrasorb’s “Food4Good” trademark will be on product labels.
Despite it being packed with nutrients, consumers will want to know – does the new lettuce taste good? Sharon Palmer, a registered dietician and author of The Plant-Powered Diet, characterized the lettuce as “tender and delicious.”
“And maybe the best thing about NutraLeaf is just how beautiful it looks in salads, serving as a deep purple color contrast for a number of your favorite salad ingredients,” she wrote in her blog.
The development of Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health with additional support from Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.
– Cindy Rovins and Carl Blesch
For more information, please contact Cindy Rovins, agricultural communications editor, at 848-932-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org