Why Does Lettuce Turn Pink?

lettuce turning pink or red with text asking why

Have you noticed a pink hue forming in your lettuce? If you're not sure why lettuce turns pink, we'll tell you the causes and the cures.

Read on for the answer...

Quick Answer: Basically, it's a sign that it's old lettuce when it starts turning pink or red. But there are things that you can do to prevent this change from happening, which we'll explain below.

What Causes the Rust Color in Lettuce?

We've all taken some romaine or green leaf lettuce out of the vegetable bin, only to find that it's no longer totally green.

As long as you're not simply dealing with a red-tinted variety of lettuce, the pinkish to rusty hue that lettuce often takes on is due to oxidation.

The enzyme activity that produces the reddening is a quick indication that it's no longer the freshest. Often, you can see this process starting toward the bottoms of the stems.

The color change will happen due to ethylene gas. These are given off by various fruits and vegetables, and romaine lettuce is particularly prone to deteriorating faster when exposed to it.

If the leaves are damaged, they may also take on a reddish tone where the damage occurred. 

But if you're noticing the red color spreading throughout, it's probably just older lettuce.

No matter what, pinkish or reddish lettuce (that's not naturally that color) means that the lettuce isn't in the best, freshest condition.

Can You Still Eat Lettuce When It Turns Pink?

There's no harm in actually eating lettuce that's oxidizing and turning pink. It just won't be the tastiest, or even the most nutritious.

The enzymes breaking the lettuce down do not present any danger to your digestive system.

As long as the lettuce isn't wilted or slimy and it looks to be in good condition, you can safely eat it, pink edges and all.

But fair warning—a head of lettuce with rusty-looking stems and leaves is on its last leg.

How Do You Keep Lettuce from Turning Red?

Can you even stop lettuce from turning red?

Yes, you certainly can.

The simplest step you can take is to make sure that you're buying and eating fresh lettuce only.

Usually, locally grown lettuce is the freshest as it hasn't undergone shipping processes that take up valuable time in its shelf life.

If you're buying lettuce from the grocery store, check it over carefully for signs of good color and crispness, and don't buy lettuce that's already turning red in the stems. If there's an expiration date, make sure that it's not impending.

When you bring a head of lettuce home, storing it properly is key.

Keep it in the refrigerator in a container that limits exposure to the air. In fact, it's a good idea to wrap lettuce in a paper towel before putting it in a container.

Be sure to store it away from fruits and vegetables that produce high levels of ethylene gas. 

These include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Melons

Lettuce that's stored correctly can last for a week or more. It's a bit of a fragile vegetable, so proper precautions are vital if you want to keep it fresh and green.

Conclusion

Lettuce that appears to be taking on a pinkish to reddish hue is getting old. (This excludes naturally reddish lettuce, of course.)

However, you can still eat reddening lettuce as long as it looks to be healthy. It's just an indication that you'll need to eat it quickly before it goes bad.

To keep lettuce from turning shades of red, store it in the refrigerator away from fruits and vegetables that produce lots of ethylene gas, and you're golden.

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