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Lettuce wraps are similar to sandwich wraps, but they use lettuce instead of flatbread to contain the other ingredients. Any type of sandwich can be made as a lettuce wrap instead, and a number of different types of lettuce may be used. Iceberg lettuce is one popular option, since the leaves tend to be solid and crunchy, though large, flexible romaine leaves are also well suited to use as wraps. Other varieties of lettuce, such as the somewhat bitter escarole, can also be a good fit for certain types of wraps. Due to the fact that no bread products are used in the making of a lettuce wrap, these sandwich substitutes tend to be lower in both calories and carbohydrates than other similar options.
Sandwich wraps have been popular since the 1980s, though lettuce has been used as a bread replacement in certain circumstances for even longer. The term wrap was not used until the 1980s, but some restaurants served hamburgers with lettuce in place of buns as early as the 1970s. These early examples typically used two leaves of lettuce that were not necessarily wrapped around the fillings, though the basic concept was the same. Many products that are sold as lettuce wraps still use this sandwich-like method, especially when certain varieties of lettuce are used.
There are many different kinds of lettuce wraps, since almost any type of sandwich, or sandwich wrap, can use lettuce instead of bread. Traditional sandwich materials, such as meat and cheese, can be used to make a lettuce wrap, as can chicken salad and other foods that are commonly used as fillings for sandwich wraps. It is also possible to use a wide variety of different lettuces, though iceberg is one of the most common options. Iceberg lettuce tends to be stiff and crunchy, which can allow it to be a good bread substitute. More traditional wraps that involve actually wrapping lettuce around the fillings, instead of just using two leaves to make a sandwich, typically use romaine and other leafier varieties.
The two main differences between a lettuce wrap and a sandwich wrap, aside from taste, are the caloric and carbohydrate contents. Lettuce is very low in both calories and carbohydrates, while bread tends to be much higher on the glycemic index. That means a lettuce wrap can often be a good substitute for someone who is either on a low-carb diet, or needs to watch his carbohydrate or caloric inputs for other reasons.
I think lettuce wraps are great, since I am a type 2 diabetic and have to watch my carbohydrate intake. I'll order some sandwiches without bread, but that's not always as satisfying as eating a traditional sandwich wrapped inside something. A knife and fork doesn't always take the place of a bun.
I have to disagree with the article on one point. I don't think every type of sandwich works well as a lettuce wrap. Chicken and tuna salad is perfect for a lettuce wrap, as is a hamburger. But there are some sandwiches where the style of bread is important, like a Reuben on rye bread or a hotdog in a bun. You can put all of the ingredients in lettuce leaves, but it's not the same experience. I tend to stick with basic sandwiches like ham and cheese or roast beef if I'm choosing a lettuce wrap.
One of my favorite hamburger restaurants has now started offering bunless burgers, which are essentially lettuce wraps. I believe they use large iceberg lettuce leaves, but I've heard of other places using smaller butter lettuce leaves.
I like the health benefits of lettuce wraps, but they do take some getting used to. Lettuce doesn't always behave like flour tortillas or flatbread. It can break apart suddenly if you don't handle it with care while eating. That's one reason I prefer the butter lettuce over the crispier iceberg lettuce. I also find the additional water in the lettuce leaves to be a little distracting sometimes.
I still order lettuce wraps if I have a choice on the menu, but I don't know if they'll ever be as popular as sandwich wraps served on tortillas or flatbread.
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