Since You Asked: You can cut lettuce

I grew up with my mom's admonishment to never cut lettuce with a knife. Only tearing by hand was acceptable, a standard reinforced when I worked in a restaurant kitchen. But now I see television chefs regularly chopping lettuce with a knife. Any idea how this shift in thinking came about?

— Melissa C., Ashland

We're guessing your mom was of the era (1970s) when a popular salad-dressing commercial depicted a mother telling her daughter, "Never cut the lettuce — always gently tear it."

We only hope that kid eventually got the memo: There's no reason not to cut lettuce. Too bad you apparently didn't.

That old kitchen maneuver stemmed from the belief that cutting lettuce leaves with a metal knife would make them brown more quickly. We now know that's not entirely true.

Go ahead and attribute the shift to widespread availability of more reliable information on cooking techniques. No longer do home cooks have to depend on word-of-mouth (and salad-dressing commercials).

A Cook's Illustrated report on plastic lettuce knives found that lettuce cut with a metal knife showed very faint browning on the edges after 12 days. Lettuce cut with a plastic knife browned slightly after 13 days, and hand-torn lettuce lasted 14 days. But, more importantly, who keeps salad around for two weeks?

A recent article by McClatchy News Service cited books for both professional and home cooks dating back to the mid-1990s. All were already dismissing the old rule about not cutting lettuce.

And while we're dispelling kitchen myths, there's also no need to wipe mushrooms clean one by one.

Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; email to

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