Rutgers Creates a Super Lettuce

With the introduction of Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce, the university’s Scarlet Knight mascot and sports teams have company. The new red leaf lettuce has twice the antioxidants and polyphenols of blueberries and cranberries, without the sugar.

Illya Raskin, Rutgers Professor
Rutgers professor Illya Raskin with a head of the highly nutritious Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce his research team developed.
Photo: Nick Romanenko

Rutgers Distinguished Professor Ilya Raskin and a team of scientists from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences developed this nutritious lettuce that is low in calories and high in fiber. Regular consumption of antioxidants and polyphenols has been shown to protect against certain cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and inflammation.

In October, capping three years of development, Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce was picked up by Coastline Family Farms of Salinas, California. The company began distributing it throughout North and South America. Marketed and trademarked as Nutraleaf, the new super lettuce comes in two varieties, a leaf and a romaine.

Both are available locally at various Wegman’s supermarkets.

Why did the Rutgers scientists develop a new lettuce?

“Lettuce is the second most consumed vegetable after potatoes,” says Raskin.

Rutgers Scarlet is not a genetically-modified plant. The researchers used what is called tissue culture technology. A plant is reduced to an individual cell; then millions are grown in a Petri dish. The researchers select the ones that have the highest levels of the beneficial compounds they are looking for.

In addition to being visually attractive, the deep burgundy Rutgers lettuce has only 10 calories per cup, and is a good source of vitamins A and C, magnesium, iron and potassium.

Raskin, who grew up in Russia, received his Ph.D. from Michigan State in 1984 and has been working at Rutgers for 25 years. He says non-GMO breeding of plants for nutritional benefit is “the next frontier” in food science. Rutgers Scarlet, he says, is “the first wave.”

Rutgers Scarlet Lettuce is “our baby,” he says, “but hopefully there will be new lettuces to talk about in a year or so.”

He and his team are hard at work to make that dream a reality.

Nutraleaf Spicy Chicken Wraps
Adapted From Coastline Family Farms


4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (or 1 (2-pound) skirt or flank steak)
½ cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon Chipotle pepper
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in small bowl. Set aside.

8 baby bell peppers, split and seeded
8 pineapple slices
Canola oil
8 large outer leaves Nutraleaf Burgundy Leaf Lettuce or Romaine, base removed, rinsed and crisped

Chihuahua or other Mexican cheese


Place chicken breast in sealable plastic bag and pour in lemon juice. (If using steak, score skirt steak by making diagonal slashes about 1/8 inch deep.) Close bag. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Preheat grill. Lift chicken or steak from marinade. Coat both sides generously with rub and set aside. Grill about 6 minutes, turn and cook second side about 5 minutes or until done. Set aside
on a cutting board to rest. Brush peppers and pineapple slices with canola oil and grill until grill marks appear. Chop peppers and pineapple into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Slice chicken
diagonally into ½- inch strips. For each serving, arrange two Nutraleaf leaves on plate, slightly
overlapping. Top each two leaves with steak strips, chopped peppers and pineapple. Add salsa and crumbled Mexican cheese Roll up, holding wrap in place with wooden pick or fingers to eat.


SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at

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