It’s every gardener’s dream to have day after day of perfect sunshine. We all know that without it, most plants (let’s forget about things such as forced rhubarb for a moment) can’t achieve the colour, flavour, vibrancy or appearance that better conditions would allow. This is especially true for salad leaves, which need a surprisingly specific environment to grow to their full potential. They require some form of heat – the first sign of frost will often wipe out most salad crops – but when it gets too hot the leaves begin to burn. It’s natural sunshine that makes all the difference to the final product.
That’s why Europe is home to the best rays for salad growers. We often associate sunshine with tropical beach paradises like Barbados, but the scorching temperatures are too much for typical leaves. This is why in places such as Spain, salad growers will sow seeds in the mountains to avoid the rising heat of summer, and salad farmers in England can make the most of the UK’s sunshine when there's the perfect amount of light.
Leaves that haven’t been grown in enough sunshine are easy to spot – they tend to turn yellow very quickly, are never as vibrant as they should be and break apart more easily. Despite requiring similar conditions to reach their full potential, salad leaves are incredibly varied. There are countless combinations of ingredients that can go into something as simple as a mixed leaf salad, and each leaf variety has a unique appearance, taste and texture that can complement other foods perfectly. Here are some of the most common salad leaves with a brief description of how they should feel and taste.