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Why do burger chains use green leaf lettuce?

Why use green leaf lettuce in a burger?

It's essentially tasteless and has the mouthfeel of wet nori. I think the worst offender might be Shake Shack, which is a travesty because they make an otherwise fine burger.

I could easily do without any greens in my burger but if you are going to adorn some greenery at least use something that serves some purpose.

Something like iceberg at least provides crunch, but green leaf just makes a burger look portrait-perfect and actually detracts from the burger's taste

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  1. but green leaf just makes a burger look portrait-perfect

    You have your answer

    1. Hmmm, I wonder if it's a somewhat regional thing? While I can think of a very few places around here that serve a burger with green leaf lettuce, the majority serve iceberg - even the chains. (But it's my favorite place which is not a chain that not only serves it, but shreds it as well. Yum.)

      12 Replies
      1. re: mamachef

        That's another thing I don't like on my burgers ... shredded lettuce.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          "Each to his own," said the old lady as she kissed her cow. :)

          1. re: mamachef

            For some reason shredded lettuce always reminds me of grade school cafeteria hard tacos ... not that that's a bad thing.

            1. re: mamachef

              The first person that knows the entire quote in over a couple of decades that I have run into.

              Well said.

              This was to Mamachef upstream. Still haven't learned the new system.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              I tend to agree, ipsedixit. If I want a salad I will order it alongside my burger. I do not want it ON my burger. That applies to lettuce, tomato, and any other cold salad-like ingredients.

              1. re: rockycat

                "If I want a salad I will order it alongside my burger. I do not want it ON my burger. That applies to lettuce, tomato, and any other cold salad-like ingredients."

                and yet, that's about the only way I'll have a burger (if I can't get a grilled / roasted pepper and/or mushrooms) - lettuce, tomato & mayo (preferably Cains, if I do the preparation).

                I realize ketchup is probably the most common topping, but I find simply adding all that sugar rather repulsive.

                1. re: Clams047

                  I think I'd like that "salad" a lot more if it weren't flavorless iceberg and less-than-flavorless pink mealy hothouse "tomato." Give me a nice peppery green salad and a good garden beefsteak tomato. Or forget them all and just give me sweet grilled onions.

                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                    I agree - burgers made at home are topped with tomatoes only when they're in season & from our garden or the farmers market. And in place of lettuce - even our own garden lettuce - I much prefer some fresh Arugula.

            3. re: mamachef

              If it is indeed a regional thing....I see mostly Red Leaf Lettuce here in New Jersey in restaurants.....shredded Iceberg at Fast Food places.

              1. re: fourunder

                Shake Shack, which is East Coast (NY, DC, Philly, FL, CT) uses green leaf exclusively.

                Does red leaf taste any better than green?

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I think they are both tasteless....but the red leaf lettuce adds color to the platform, i.e., tomato and onion/red onion.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Sometimes green leaf lettuce is awesome- sweet, green, crunchy, and wonderful. When it's not, it's pretty bad. Places that put leaf lettuce on their burgers do so whether it's good or bad.
                    Red leaf lettuce, to me, is terrible. It doesn't have the same taste as a good green lettuce, it wilts faster than anything on the planet, and you can't tell because it's already sort of brown to begin with. Yuck.

              2. Next time say "Hold the lettuce". When you get your burger go to your table open up the burger and take the little Zip lock bag you brought containing your favorite lettuce and put it on the burger.

                1. Ice berg lettuce has a purpose? Is there anything more useless than iceberg lettuce? - hence its name.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Clams047

                    I agree that nutritionally speaking iceberg lettuce is sort of like ricecakes.

                    But in a sandwich, they do provide a nice crunch, sort of a break from the richness and unctuousness of the meat, cheese, etc.

                    I am a "no greenery" person when it comes to burgers, but I don't mind some iceberg on my BLT, however.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I agree, no greenery on my burger (except avocado occasionally). I dislike raw tomatoes on burgers and sandwiches as well (roasted tomatoes are good). For my BLT I actually prefer romaine - it can be a little unwieldy due to its shape but it has both crunch and flavor.

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        Yeah, if it's a really good burger all I need is bun.

                        I might go for caramelized onions and sauteed 'shrooms. Maybe.

                    2. re: Clams047

                      I absolutely love iceberg lettuce. Cool, crunchy, yum!

                    3. McDonalds in Russia puts spinach on their Bolshoi Burger.

                      1 Reply
                      1. I have quite a few cookbooks circa 1920-1960 where hamburgers are topped with either finely shredded cabbage or coleslaw. Probably a regional thing.

                        8 Replies
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            There's a scene in the film "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953) where Lauren Bacall piles coleslaw on her diner hamburger.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              'Round here they call that a "Carolina Burger." Chili topping (hot dog-style chili) and mayo-based coleslaw. A lot of people seem to like it but I'm definitely not one of them.

                              1. re: rockycat

                                I'm going to take a stab and say that's related to the practice of putting coleslaw on top of Carolina pulled pork sandwiches. Except most Carolina slaws are vinegar and not mayo based.

                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                  There are 2 types of BBQ in NC, and 2 types of slaw. Eastern style BBQ sauce is vinegar and spices, and the slaw is mayo based. Western, or Lexington, style adds some ketchup or tomato paste to the vinegar sauce and the cole slaw is dressed with the sauce, giving it a red tint.

                                  1. re: carolinadawg

                                    Thanks for reminding me about East Carolina slaw. It's been so many years since I had it, I'd forgotten such a thing even existed.

                            2. re: monkeyrotica

                              I can think of a few places on the Northern Gulf Coast that top a fish sandwich with slaw instead of or along with tartar sauce, but I'd never really thought of putting it on a burger before.

                              1. re: beachmouse

                                Depends on the slaw, I guess. Most "coleslaw" you get with fish is some horrible sickly sweet milky slop that's suffocated in industrial grade mayo. There's an 1847 slaw recipe by "Mrs. Crowen" that's just finely shredded cabbage, butter, salt, pepper, and vinegar. I think the simple flavors work the best. Just a bit of tartness to complement the other flavors in the burger. And since the cabbage is so finely shredded, it's got more texture than bland lettuce but still enough "bite" to make it interesting.


                            3. Maybe, they think it'll appeal to some customers who will see the green leaf lettuce as being healthy as it has a few more nutrients per calory than iceberg. Yet, I agree that, perhaps, a crunchier leaf would go better here.

                              1. Green Leaf is less watery, looks better than say 'iceberg' and is easier to portion out.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: treb


                                  In addition, leaf lettuce has a longer shelf life than Iceburg, which tends to start browning quicker than leaf lettuce varieties when cut.

                                  1. re: Bacardi1

                                    If it was just about looks and longevity (which I can understand and don't really blame the restaurant's reasoning for using them), then why not use Butter Lettuce?

                                    Which, in my estimation, lasts just as long as Green Leaf, looks just as pretty, but tastes infinitely better.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Because butter-lettuce varieties are more expensive than leaf-lettuce varieties, & you're talking about fast-food places here.

                                      And leaf lettuce types do have a longer shelf life than butter lettuce types. I know - I grow both.

                                      1. re: Bacardi1

                                        Butter lettuce is also much more fragile than iceberg lettuce.

                                        1. re: Sherri

                                          Yes - it is more fragile, but Iceberg does tend to brown faster.

                                          1. re: Bacardi1

                                            Which is why carne asada tacos in Mexico use cabbage. It doesn't wilt as fast, holds up better without refrigeration, and when it's good it's really good. When it's bad, you don't use so much of it and it still gives a lot of crunch.
                                            I hope this isn't considered a threadjacking.

                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              Reading this thread, I'm starting to feel like iceberg lettuce is the ethelene-treated, flavorless, industrial hothouse "tomato" of the food world: available year-round so you can enjoy its lack of flavor even in the depth of winter.

                                2. I'm going to open a chain of burger restaurants that uses kale instead of lettuce, kale is hot.

                                  /going to be filthy rich

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: redfish62

                                    Ugh! While Kale is definitely my favorite green when cooked, I really dislike it raw. Can't think of anything I'd rather have less atop a good burger than a piece of raw Kale.

                                    You might, however, get kids to eat less fast food burgers if you could get a raw-Kale-on-burgers thing started - lol!!

                                    1. re: Bacardi1

                                      at my workplace community garden, my "plotmate" is growing winter kale, and I don't think i've had such a sweet, sweet, crunchy, beautifully-flavored crucifer, ever. It really is sweet. I plan to grow a bunch more so we don't run out. Honestly, I drop by it on the way to lunch and pick a few leaves to nosh on the way in to the cafeteria, aka crapeteria.

                                  2. It's relatively cheap, it keeps for a reasonable period of time, it is somewhat wilt resistant, it looks attractive. Iceberg is probably the second most common, shredded iceberg comes in third place. two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese - thats shredded iceberg. The fact that these are all low flavor lettuces add to their appeal. Not many people want escarole on their burger.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      Really? I actually iceberg is most common, with green leaf maybe in a dead heat with shredded iceberg for second.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        I do like butter lettuce but, it's more limited by season, more fragile and expensive. My favorite for iceberg is an old school wedge with homemade blue cheese dressing and tons of bacon bits.