Why Does Lettuce Turn Red?



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I think that we tend to eat with our eyes just as much as we do with our mouths and make snap judgments about our food based on its appearance. It’s probably why so much emphasis is put on presentation at restaurants.

Why Does Lettuce Turn Red?

And if something doesn’t look appealing or appetizing, then regardless of its taste it’s pretty likely that we will dismiss it. 

So, it comes as no surprise, really, that so many people are put off consuming lettuce when that red rusty color starts to creep over it.

We associate lettuce with being green, although this isn’t always the case, and when we see that new color start to develop we lose our appetite for it and throw it away assuming it’s gone bad. 

But has it actually gone bad? 

In this article, I’m going to go over exactly why that rusty color starts infiltrating your lettuce leaves and whether or not it is still safe for consumption. Ready to learn?

Let’s get straight to it then. 

The Reason That Lettuce Sometimes Turns Red 

Sometimes lettuce turns a weird rusty color, but this can actually happen before you even get it out of the store. 

But don’t worry, while it might not look the most appealing, it doesn’t mean that it’s gone off or out of date. This actually happens due to a process known as oxidation. 

While this can happen with many varieties of lettuce, it is most typical in either Romaine or Iceberg lettuce.

And it’ll tend to happen a lot more often when you opt to cut and slice your lettuce with a knife rather than just tearing off the leaves. 


Well, once you open up a lettuce or if a lettuce is slightly damaged, oxygen can enter its cell walls pretty quickly.

When the oxygen makes its way into the cell walls it causes the release of a particular enzyme. This released enzyme is what causes the change in color. 

The other reason your lettuce might be turning red is that you store it next to other types of fruit. Unseen to the human eye, fresh fruit often emits ethylene gas as they ripen.

When your lettuce is exposed to this gas, it can result in a change of color. 

So, Is Red Lettuce Safe To Eat Or Not? 

Yes, it’s safe to eat. That change to rusty red usually just means that the lettuce has been exposed to oxygen but it won’t impact the taste or texture of the stuff.

Really, the only reason that it often isn’t eaten is just that it looks a little…off-putting. Especially if you don’t know why it’s turned that color. 

But now we know! 

You won’t get sick from eating red lettuce nor will it taste bad. So, wallets rejoice, when you see that red color start to show up on your lettuce, it doesn’t mean that you need a trip to the store for its replacement. 

If regardless of learning that it’s harmless, the thought of eating red lettuce still churns your stomach, you can always opt to cut the red bits off.

At least now you know that the item itself isn’t actually rotting or out of date. 

How To Try And Prevent Your Lettuce From Turning Red

How To Try And Prevent Your Lettuce From Turning Red

For those that feel a bit queasy at the thought or sight of red lettuce, you can always take extra preventative measures to stop your lettuce from turning red. Let’s take a look at some of them now. 

  • Tear Don’t Cut – Tearing lettuce leaves will help you evade that rusty red color for longer than if you cut your lettuce with a knife. This is because a cut allows more of the surface area to be exposed to oxygen while tearing will help to keep the lettuce intact. 
  • Damp Paper Towels – Once you have washed and dried your lettuce, you’ll want to grab a few damp paper towels. Pop your lettuce along with your towels in an airtight plastic bag to keep the moisture in and the oxygen out. 
  • Individual Leaves – Another option is to store portions of leaves individually to stop the rust-red from taking over. All you need to do is place your portioned leaves into plastic containers with lids and then place them in the refrigerator. Just be sure to keep some distance between the containers and the refrigerator coolant lines otherwise you may accidentally freeze them. Keep in mind that this method will only keep the leaves fresh for a day or two. 

What About Pre-Cut Lettuce

Even pre-cut lettuce can be affected by oxidation. In fact, probably more so since the slicing of the lettuce exposes even more of the plant to oxygen.

You may notice that the edges of the slices start to turn a red color. Luckily, there are ways to try and prevent this too. 

  • Use A Plastic Knife For Cutting – Metal knives can rub along fresh cuts and thus induce even more red coloration. To avoid this you are much better using a plastic knife instead.
  • Rinse In A Lemon/Water Solution – Using cold water and only a small amount of lemon juice (you don’t want lemon-flavored lettuce) rinse your pre-cut lettuce. This can help to prevent oxidation due to the citric acid in the lemon juice. 

Final Thoughts

While red might not be the most appealing of sights, there’s nothing unsafe about it. So, if you grab your lettuce out of the fridge and notice that slightly red-rusty color, don’t panic.

It’s still fine to use. You can still eat the lettuce with red tinges or you can simply cut them off – that choice is up to you. 

If you want to try and prevent your lettuce from falling victim to oxidation then just follow the aforementioned tips above. They are sure to leave your lettuce looking much more appetizing. 

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Video: Why Does Lettuce Turn Red?

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