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Salad : Bag That Salad

August 25, 1994|MICHELLE HUNEVEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No more washing and drying lettuce, no more tearing into bite-sized pieces. Now there's salad-in-a-bag--almost any combination of greens and chicories you can think of, from Ready Pac's mostly iceberg All American Mix to Kenter Canyon Farm's box of pedigreed baby romaines. Just dump in a bowl, dress and devour.

Of course, such convenience has a price tag. Five minutes saved can mean a whopping 400% markup. That's what we found in comparing one brand of salad-in-a-bag to a do-it-yourself mix consisting of the same lettuce. What's more, the quality of those pre-sorted, pre-washed greens was frequently disappointing.

We tested nine brands of bagged salads this week in The Times Test Kitchen, sorting the greens according to type, weighing each pile, then re-sorting them into good and bad piles (i.e., salad we'd eat and salad we'd throw away).

We also made our own mixes from lettuce and greens purchased at supermarkets where salads-in-a-bag are sold and priced our product against their pre-bagged counterparts.

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We found that less expensive lettuces--iceberg and/or mature leaf lettuces--make up the bulk of most bagged mixes. Ready Pac's Spring Mix contained three ounces of mature leaf lettuce to two ounces of mixed baby lettuces. There is rarely more than half an ounce of radicchio in any mix. Ready Pac's Salade Lafayette contains 6 1/2 ounces of butter lettuce and one-half ounce of radicchio.

To our surprise, bagged lettuce mixes were often wet--and, therefore, contained some browning and sliminess, even in bags dated for freshness 10 days beyond the date we purchased and examined them. Some gave off an unappetizing swampy smell.

Most bags and boxes weighed true, although one four-ounce box of Kenter Canyon Farms' baby romaine leaves ($2.99 at Bristol Farms) actually weighed only 2 3/4 ounces. In fact, after removing a full ounce of unusable leaves, these baby romaines cost more than $27 a pound.

Salad-in-a-bag is an extravagance. Ready Pac's seven-ounce Sonoma Mix ($2.99 at Bristol Farms, $2.49 at Ralphs) contains 1 1/2 ounces of endive and 5 1/2 ounces of green leaf lettuce; it cost us 67 cents to make. Preparation time, including washing and drying the lettuce and endive, took less than five minutes.

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Ready Pac's seven-ounce Santa Barbara Salad ($2.99 at Bristol Farms, $1.99 at Trader Joe's) contains radicchio, endive and escarole; it cost us 77 cents to make. The same company's seven-ounce Salade Lafayette, ($2.99 Bristol Farms, $2.49 Ralphs) contains butter lettuce and radicchio and cost us 81 cents to make. Fresh Express' 10-ounce European Salad ($2.39 Ralphs) cost us 92 cents to make.

"Health-food" supermarkets are not keen on salad-in-a-bag. Wild Oats in Pasadena does not sell any packaged salad greens, and at Mrs. Gooch's in Glendale, the only packaged salad found was a box of the standard loose baby greens mix (eight ounces for 79 cents), which would have been a bargain if the greens hadn't been packed so tightly that more than half were too bruised to use.

To save money, you might try making your own salad-in-a-bag. Buy lettuces for the week, then rinse and dry them all at once. Divide whole leaves up into individual batches, wrap loosely in paper towels and store in large plastic food bags. Tear leaves into the bowl just before serving.

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Kenter Canyon Farms "Mesclun"

Advertised weight: 4 ounces (Actual weight: 4 ounces). $2.99 at Bristol Farms.

1/4 ounce baby chicory; 1/4 ounce each mizuna, arugula and baby mustard; 3/4 ounce baby red and green romaine; 3/4 ounce red and green leaf; 1/4 ounce red and green oak leaf, 1/2 ounce endive; 3/4 ounce miscellaneous.

Quality Rating: 4

Kenter Canyon Farms "Baby Romaine"

4 ounces (2 3/4 ounces). $2.99 at Bristol Farms.

All romaines, though some were adolescent. Wet. 1 ounce bad (1 3/4 ounces for $2.99).

Quality Rating 2

Cal-Organic Farms "Pre-Washed Spring Mix"

6 ounces (7 1/2 ounces). $1.99 at Lucky.

1 1/2 ounces red and green leaf; 1 ounce dandelion greens; 1/4 ounce beet greens; 1/2 ounce baby romaine; 1/2 ounce frisee; 1/4 ounce tatsoi; 1/4 ounce red mustard; 1/4 ounce arugula; 1/2 ounce radicchio; 2 1/2 ounces miscellaneous.

Wet and swampy, 2 ounces bad.

Quality Rating: 1

Ready Pac "Sonoma Salad"

7 ounces (7 ounces). $2.99 at Bristol Farms.

1 1/2 ounces endive; 5 1/2 ounces green leaf.

Wet. 2 ounces bad.

Quality Rating: 1.5

Ready Pac "Salade Lafayette"

7 ounces (7 ounces). $2.99 at Bristol Farms.

6 1/2 ounces butter; 1/2 ounce radicchio.

Quality Rating: 3.5

Ready Pac "Santa Barbara Salad"

7 ounces (7 ounces). $1.99 at Trader Joe's.

1/2 ounce radicchio; 2 3/4 ounces endive; 3 3/4 ounces escarole.

Stemmy.

Quality Rating: 3.5

Ready Pac "All-American Mix"

14 ounces (14 ounces). $2.99 at Bristol Farms.

1/4 ounce carrots; 1/4 ounce radishes; 1/4 ounce red cabbage; 3 1/2 ounces romaine; 8 ounces iceberg; 1 3/4 ounces miscellaneous.

Bad grocery store smell. Wet. 2 ounces bad.

Quality Rating: 1.5

Ready Pac "Spring Mix"

5 ounces (5 3/4 ounces). $1.99 at Trader Joe's.

3 ounces red and green leaf; 1/2 ounce red oak; 1 ounce red and green baby romaine; 1/2 ounce tatsoi; 3/4 ounce miscellaneous.

Wet. 1/4 ounce bad.

Quality Rating: 3

Mrs. Gooch's

8 ounces (8 ounces). 79 cents at Mrs. Gooch's.

1 1/2 ounces radicchio; 1/2 ounce mizuna; 1 1/2 ounce red and green romaine; 1 1/4 ounces frisee; 2 1/2 ounces red oak; 3/4 ounce miscellaneous.

Packed very tightly, chopped and smashed. Red oak especially bad.

Quality Rating: 2.5

Fresh Express "European Salad"

10 ounces (10 ounces). 2.39 at Ralphs.

1 ounce romaine; 1 ounce endive; 1 ounce escarole; 1 1/2 ounces radicchio; 5 ounces iceberg; 1/2 ounce miscellaneous.

Irregular sizing.

Quality Rating: 3.

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