Cutting a head of lettuce

How To Chop Iceberg Lettuce For Salad

Iceberg lettuce, while not as popular as Romaine lettuce because of its lower nutrient content, is a popular ingredient in many salads.

It goes perfectly with many other salad ingredients without overpowering them. It also adds a nice fresh and crisp texture to the salad.

Chopping iceberg lettuce for a salad is pretty easy. With a sharp knife and a good quality non-slip chopping board, it should take no more than 5 minutes.

Cleaning the Lettuce

Even if the lettuce was wrapped when you bought it, it is still a good idea to wash it.

Remove the first two layers of leaves and discard them. They are the dirtiest and will usually have started wilting.

Then wash the lettuce under running tap water.

Cutting and Chopping

First remove the core of the lettuce. You just want the leaves.

To remove it, estimate an inch from the bottom of the lettuce head and cut it at that point. Discard the cut part. This leaves you with just the crispy leaves.

An alternative to cutting off the core is to hit the bottom of the lettuce against the countertop. You’ll have to use quite a bit of force to make sure the core breaks on the inside.

After it breaks, you can easily pull it out with your fingers.

But that’s an inconvenient method and may bruise the delicate lettuce leaves. Cutting with a knife usually gets the job done well enough.

Chopping Wedges

Note: I highly recommend using a sharp knife to cut and chop the lettuce. It will be faster, easier and produce better results. It is also safer as it gives you more control when cutting. If your knife has gone a few days without sharpening, quickly re-hone it using a sharpening steel or electric knife sharpener if you have one.

If you are preparing your salad with large wedges rather than finely chopped lettuce, you just need to cut the head into four quarters.

First cut the head in half then place both halves flat side down and cut each of them in half again.

If the lettuce head was particularly big and the quarters are still too large, cut them again in half to get 1/8 wedges.

Chopping Large/Thin Strips

If you want the lettuce well mixed with the other ingredient, you’ll need to chop it into strips. Decide whether you want large pieces or finely chopped ones.

Whichever your choice, start by cutting the lettuce head in half.

Then place one half on its flat side and hold it down with your non-cutting hand.

Start chopping the lettuce from one end. If you want large pieces, simply chop the half lettuce head into 1/2 inch wedges. The strips will separate easily once you have cut the wedges.

If you are going for finely chopped stripes, chop the lettuce as close to the edge as possible. It will take some time before you chop the full half.

Remember to use a sharp knife especially when you are chopping fine strips. You’ll find it so much easier and faster.

Here’s a quick video showing how to do it.

Note that this method results in long thin strips. If you want shorter strips, cut the lettuce into four quarters.

Then hold each quarter in the board and chop along the shorter side. The strips will be much shorter. You can make them as thin or as wide as you want depending on your salad preferences.

Here’s another short video showing how you can chop shorter strips/wedges.

Tossing the Slices

Before you add the lettuce to your salad, make sure the slices are separated into individual strips. It’s much easier to do this before you mix the lettuce with the other ingredients.

An easy way to separate the strips is to toss them with your hands. You can also use salad tongs.

If you’ve ever needed to core a head of iceberg lettuce, either because you need to chop it up or you just want it easier to separate, there’s an easier way than trying to carve out the core or cut around it—just give it a good firm whack on the countertop, and the core separates easily, all by itself.

When I first stumbled on this technique, a friend who had worked in a diner explained that it was an old kitchen trick for line cooks who go through several heads each day, making salads and tacos, but it works as advertised at home too. Just grab the head of lettuce firmly on either side and smack it on the countertop. Then turn it over and pull the now-separated core from the head of lettuce. You may need to wiggle it a bit, but it should give pretty easily. The video above shows you how it’s done.


What do you think? Old news, ingenious trick, or do you prefer a nice crisp Romaine instead? Any tips for coring other kinds of lettuce we should know about? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Core a Head of Iceberg Lettuce in 3 Seconds | Saveur

Is it worth tearing lettuce for salad?

Tearing lettuce is worth the effort

It takes a reasonably similar amount of time as cutting, and a different but comparable amount of work. If you are planning on eating the salad soon, all the above comments apply as to the browning effect. However, browning isn’t the only consideration when deciding between cutting and tearing.

Texture is as essential to the quality of a salad as any flavor, and twice as important to presentation as the edges browning. Tearing the salad’s greens results in a more diverse texture that, outside the aesthetic of a shredded iceberg lettuce salad, is preferable to a uniform cut salad that lays limp as shredded paper on your plate.

Use cases

As your use preferences may vary based on the situation (e.g. if you want the leaves to glop up as much ranch dressing and cheese as possible), here are the use cases;

  • If you wish for your salad to present like it came out of a factory that makes garden salads, cutting is desirable; each bite will be the same and the greens will fade into the background to showcase the dressing.
    • Uniform cuts will also ensure your leaves glop up all the dressing. and form nice wads of gloop.
    • Uniform cuts will make the leaves into shapes their cellular structure doesn’t support; that is, they will uniformly divide along knife cuts irrespective of cellular boundaries
  • If you wish your salad to serve plated or from a bowl and look like it was prepared leaf by leaf, ingredient by ingredient, tearing is desirable; each bite will uniquely showcase your greens and everything they are carrying.
    • Diverse and unique tears will coat nicely with dressing but allow excess to escape.
    • Diverse tears will shape pieces along their cellular structure boundaries as tearing will follow interstitial space rather than through cell walls (which are stronger in vegetable tissues than animal)

Approaches to tearing:

  • If you wish to reduce over-manipulation of the greens because the “off-flavors” are so overwhelming, or you notice your salads turning so brown, gently hold part of them against a flat surface and tear with the grain. It should tear along stalks and fibrous columns.

  • In terms of time, once the lettuce or greens are all in a colander and rinsed out, don’t be gentle with them; grab them like a fistful of dollars and rip into them, dropping the tear-away into a bowl. For small greens, I find it effective to wad them up and twist through them; with larger leaves of green pressing them together and working my way down the stalk a half-inch at a time gets the job done in maybe an extra five seconds per bunch.

Discussion of claims:

Both cutting and tearing will rupture cell walls. My experience is that both work and neither too offensively. While I make no counterclaim against McGee, I just submit that the, as referenced,the citation does not exposit more than the following; (1) McGee’s preference for the knife is pursuant to it being “generally the most effective method”, (2) the extent to which tearing isn’t the most effective method is mediated by the extent to which squeezing occurs, and even so McGee makes no counterclaim against tearing, just states a preference otherwise, and (3) McGee does not address the situational nature of this any given salad preparation; which will involve either vinegar, lemon juice, or some other acidulated liquid that would stem browning (& possibly off-flavors?). The citation is not quantified; as presented, it’s a blanket generalization by McGee being masqueraded as science to justify a cooking myth.

With respect to the degree of browning I offer no quantifiable, practical, empirical evidence to (a) support that tearing does less browning, or (b) creates less “off-flavors” (per the McGee citation), as these are a non-specified traits; nor (c) an effective, empirical comparison between the degree to which (1) “off-flavors” practically impact a salad once other ingredients and dressing are added versus (2) “off-flavors” significantly impact a salad’s quality relative to textural concerns.

Practically speaking, when preparing a salad for consumption (as opposed to cutting lettuce to oxidize), it has been my direct experience at home and in the commercial kitchen that neither knives nor hands cause more discoloration of leaf or flavor.

Our verdict? The plastic lettuce knife might stave off browning slightly longer than metal knives, but it’s not worth the money or the extra drawer space. To prolong the life of lettuce by a day or two, stick to tearing by hand. Tearing allows leaves to break along their natural fault lines, rupturing fewer cells and reducing premature browning.

  • The following are problems related to post-harvest damage, i.e. kitchen prep:

Injuries cutting through or scraping away the outer skin of produce will:

  • provide entry points for moulds and bacteria causing decay
  • increase water loss from the damaged area
  • cause an increase in respiration rate and thus heat production.

Bruising injuries, which leave the skin intact and may not be visible externally cause:

  • increased respiration rate and heat production
  • internal discoloration because of damaged tissues
  • off-flavours because of abnormal physiological reactions in damaged parts (*Applicable to non-leafy fruits and vegetables generally)

Further issues:

  • Does the presence/occurrence of browning indicate or coincide with McGee’s off-flavors?
  • How does a plastic knife’s lack of carbon relative to its dullness compare to a non-synthetic knife that is razor sharp?
  • What impact does a slicing motion (lacerating) have compared to a chopping motion (crushing)? Does friction cause more rupturing than pressure?


  • The majority of my experience does not rely on iceberg or other watery greens; in particular my advice is particularly suited to salads made with heartier greens ranging from spinach and romaine, to chard and kale.
  • Further, when preparing greens for a salad I do not do so too terribly far in advance; i.e. this advice may not suit use cases designed to preserve pre-cut greens indefinitely,
  • For salads being prepared promptly, tossing in lemon juice, vinegar, the vast majority of dressings, or any other acidulated liquid stems browning and oxidation prior to consumption; rendering the entire problem of browning moot

This is a simple but effective guide how to clean and cut iceberg lettuce very easy. Iceberg lettuce is nice and crisp, and is perfect for a hamburger or a tortilla wrap.

The iceberg you can buy at the grocery store is normally plastic warped so that it’s protected from most dirt during transport. In general iceberg doesn’t contain much dirt, but iceberg are grown directly on the ground and may contain some dirt that you need to wash off before you can use it in your food.

Using this guide it only takes about 2 minutes to wash and cut an entire iceberg.

How To: Clean and Cut Iceberg Lettuce the Fast Way

Level of difficulty: Easy

You’ll Need:
Iceberg lettuce
Chopping board

Step 1: If the iceberg has some bad leaves on the outside, start by removing these.
Step 2: Turn the iceberg over and make a circular cut around the root/core. Take out the core and widen the hole by breaking the lettuce from the center and out.
Step 3: Turn on the water and fill water inside the iceberg through hole where the core was.
Step 4: When the iceberg is filled with water (it can contain a lot), shake it a little and then flip it over and let the water run out.
Step 5: Let the iceberg drip off a bit before you cut it on a chopping board.
Step 6: If you think the lettuce is a bit wet, then use a salad spinner to dry it.

How to Choose the Best Lettuce

Above all, lettuce should be fresh and crisp. It is easy to spot wilted greens. Watch out for limp, withered leaves that have brown or yellow edges, or dark or slimy spots. Once the greens have passed their prime, there is no way to restore them to crisp freshness.

Lettuce should be displayed at the markets under refrigeration, or on ice because it is quite perishable.

Try to choose lettuce with healthy outer leaves—these are likely to be the most nutritious part of the green, containing much more beta carotene a bit more vitamin C than the pale inner leaves. Unfortunately, the outer leaves are usually the most damaged part of the head, but from a nutritional standpoint, it’s best to salvage as many as you can.

Any type of head lettuce should be symmetrically shaped. Choose a head with its dark green outer leaves intact and that’s healthy looking. Avoid overly large heads of romaine, which may have tough, fibrous leaves.

Iceberg lettuce should be compact and firm, yet springy. Very hard heads may be overmature and bitter. The stem end of a head of iceberg lettuce may look brown. This discoloration is the natural result of harvesting and does not indicate damage. If the head is not wrapped, sniff the stem end. It should smell slightly sweet, not bitter.

See also: How to Keep Your Salad Greens Safe and The Benefits of Colorful Produce.

Picking Lettuce Heads: How To Harvest Lettuce

Harvesting heads of lettuce is a great way to save money and ensure the main ingredient in your salads is healthy and free of pesticides and diseases. Learning how to harvest lettuce isn’t complicated; however, a time table must be followed to ensure that you know how to pick lettuce correctly.

When to Harvest Lettuce

Harvesting heads of lettuce successfully depends in large part on planting at the proper time for your location. Lettuce is a cool season crop that cannot handle extreme heat, so picking lettuce heads is most successful before temperatures skyrocket in summer.

The variety planted will somewhat determine when to harvest lettuce, as will the season of planting. Generally about 65 days after planting is when to harvest lettuce planted in the fall, while harvesting heads of lettuce from a winter planted crop will take about 100 days. Some varieties are adaptable and when to harvest lettuce varies by as much as seven days before or after the designated time.

Temperatures during the growing season determine the right time for harvesting heads of lettuce. Lettuce grows best when soil temperatures are cool. Seeds often sprout in only two to eight days if soil temperatures are between 55 and 75 F. (13-24 C). Seeds can be started indoors and planted into the garden in three weeks. This method can be used three weeks before your average frost date if planting in winter. Fall planted lettuce should include frost tolerant varieties which give some leeway in when to harvest lettuce.

Harvesting heads of lettuce is done by cutting them away from the stalk when the head is still firm. Use a sharp knife and simply make a clean cut below the head through the stem. The outer leaves may be removed if needed. Morning is the best time for the harvest as heads will be at their freshest.

Learning how to pick lettuce using these guidelines allows the vegetable to be harvested at the peak of freshness. Fresh, homegrown lettuce may be washed with cool water and refrigerated after excess water is shaken off. A second washing before use may be needed.


Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) – a reliable summer favourite, salad filler and sandwich staple! But it can be grown year round, with very little tender loving care after making sure that there is adequate feed. With a large variety of types and therefore flavours, lettuce isn’t just reduced to your Cos or iceberg! Available as seedlings, but also germinates readily from seed. Sprinkle in some seed at any time of year and this quick growing vegetable will be ready in weeks.

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: All Year Round!
Temperate Areas: All Year Round!
Cool to Cold Areas: All Year Round!


Lettuce is traditionally a cool season veggie (a bit like coriander), which means they prefer to be planted in cooler weather. However modern plant breeding means there are now lettuces available acrossAustraliathat are suitable for planting all year long. There are so many varieties of lettuce available for gardens now that if we included them here, this would be a very long article. Instead we suggest that you go to your local garden centre to find out what’s available locally.

Now, remembering that lettuce are cool season plants, we recommend planting them in partially shaded spots in your patch or plot. Especially if you are in an area prone to stinking hot summers. Consider using some other patch residents, like beans and sweet corn, as “living shade” or erect a shade tent in hotter months.

Soil Preparation and Feeding

Lettuce needs a well-drained soil with loads of organic matter (like crumbly compost), a bit of a seaweed feed and some lovely mulch. New seedlings will benefit when soil is prepared soil about two weeks before planting. Do this by lightly working compost and a little bit of pelletised manure based fertiliser through the soil, followed by mulch, to a depth of about 5-7cm. Walk away, and count the days to planting time. Oh, and don’t be afraid to test your pH… 6.5 is just fine!

Lettuces are a heavier feeder as they grow quite rapidly and produce a lot of leaves per plant. They need to be grown quickly for best flavour and appearance. The best way to ensure this is to make sure you prepare your beds correctly with composts and manures. Using large amounts of commercial liquid fertilisers on lettuce seedlings will encourage growth, but it also encourages hordes of snails who feast on the soft lettuce growth! It’s not necessary and it’s financially and ecologically more sustainable to use good bed preparation.

If you do feel the need to feed, do it fortnightly, at half strength, using a manure/compost tea. You can also deliver a half strength seaweed solution at planting time, as this is great for encouraging robust root growth.


Water is vital. Lettuces have shallow roots and thus need frequent watering, especially in hot and/or windy weather. Keep the area well mulched and test soil moisture regularly.

If soil is left to dry out, lettuce may run to seed creating a wasted plant, taste bitter or unfortunately die. All of which can be avoided.


Lettuces are big fans of position and timing. This determines how long it takes them all to mature. A partial guide has been prepared for you, but with most ‘guides’ things vary, depending on where you are;

  • Crisphead varieties (which includes the ubiquitous Icebergs) take about ten to twelve weeks to mature, and should be harvested roots and all.
  • Butterheads are similar to crispies, only smaller. They take about nine – ten weeks to be ready for eating. Included in these are mignonettes, oak leaf and butter varieties, and are best harvested as required.
  • Cos varieties are my favourites, take about ten – eleven weeks to grow up, and outer leaves can be harvested while the lettuce is still growing. Cos lettuce are great in cooler climes, and can easily become a winter favourite.
  • Loose Leaf lettuces are also harvested while growing, and can be eaten from about six weeks onwards. These guys are heartless so therefore can be picked as needed.


Snails are by far the biggest pest associated with lettuce, as are slugs and earwigs to a lesser extent. There are a range of options to deter these salad munching thieves before they get to your lunch. One environmentally beneficial suggestion is coffee grounds spread around your patch, either your own or contact your local café. They usually appreciate not having to throw away something that is just waste to them. Set up a beer trap, see the snails factsheet for this and other great tips on how discourage snails and slugs. These suggestions will also benefit other plants in your patch that these critters may be attracted to.

Remember, “Iceberg” is not the only lettuce around, try a variety of lettuces. Have a look around in your garden shop or nursery, most nurseries will sell a lettuce mix as well as punnet’s of a particular ‘type’. Have a look at what seeds they sell also, as this will more give you even more variety of colour, flavour, growing habits.

Lettuce is a cool-season crop. Most lettuce varieties must mature before the weather gets warm. There are bolt-resistant, heat-tolerant varieties for growing in warm weather.

  • Sow lettuce seed indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the average last frost date in spring; transplant seedlings to the garden when they are about 4 inches tall.
  • Direct sow lettuce in the garden 4 weeks before the average last frost date when the soil temperature is at least 35°
  • Sow lettuce again when the weather cools in late summer or fall.
  • Where the weather stays mild or warm most of the year, grow bolt-resistant, heat-tolerant varieties.
  • Where the weather gets cold in winter, time lettuce planting to bring the crop to harvest before the first fall frost or grow lettuce through the winter under a plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • Lettuce will be ready for harvest 65 to 80 days after sowing depending on the variety.

How to Grow Lettuce: Lettuce is a cool-season crop which must mature before the weather gets

Types of Lettuce

Lettuce is a fast-growing, hardy annual with either loose or compact growing leaves that range in color from light green to reddish-brown.

  • Leaf or Looseleaf lettuce form loose, circular pattern, compact heads; leaves are yellow, green, red, or purplish; leaves can be frilly or smooth. Looseleaf lettuce comes to harvest in 40 to 50 days.
  • Butterhead lettuce, also called Bibb or Boston lettuce, form loose round heads with delicate green to cream-colored leaves at the center. Butterhead lettuce has a soft and buttery texture and delicate flavor. Butterhead lettuce comes to maturity in 65 to 80 days; it can be very sensitive to high and low temperatures.
  • Romaine or Cos lettuce form leafy green upright cylindrical or oval heads. Romaine lettuce comes to maturity in 80 to 85 days. Romaine lettuce is easy to grow.
  • Crisphead or Iceberg lettuce form firm, compact heads of pale green, overlapping leaves. Crisphead lettuce comes to harvest in 80 to 90 days. Crisphead lettuce requires more space than other types of lettuce and can be finicky when it comes to water.
  • Celtuce or Stem lettuce form loose leafy tops on stalks that resemble celery. Leaves are eaten as greens and stalks are eaten like celery. Celtuce comes to harvest in 65 to 90 days.

Where to Grow Lettuce

  • Grow lettuce in full sun or partial shade. Use shade cloth to protect lettuce from very warm or hot weather.
  • Lettuce prefers well-worked, well-drained soil that is moisture retentive.
  • Add 4 inches or more of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix to planting beds in advance of planting. Turn the soil to 6 inches deep.
  • Lettuce prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.

Transplant seedlings to the garden when they are about 4 inches tall but not before night temperatures remain above 30°.

Lettuce Planting Time Through the Year

  • Lettuce is a cool-season crop that must come to harvest before the weather gets warm.
  • Sow lettuce seed indoors 4 to 6 weeks before you plan to set transplants in the garden—commonly 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Transplant seedlings to the garden when they are about 4 inches tall but not before night temperatures remain above 30°.
  • Direct sow lettuce in the garden when the soil temperature is at least 35° Lettuce seed will not germinate in soil cooler than 35°F.
  • Sow lettuce every three weeks for a continuous harvest. As temperatures warm sow bolt-resistant, heat-tolerant varieties.
  • Eight weeks before the first expected frost in autumn, switch back to cool-weather lettuce varieties.
  • In mild-winter regions, grow lettuce from autumn through winter into spring. Sow succession crops every three weeks through the winter.
  • Lettuce will be ready for harvest 65 to 80 days after sowing depending on the variety.

Thin leaf lettuce seedlings to stand 6 to 8 inches apart and head lettuce to 12 inches apart. Space rows 18 inches apart.

Planting and Spacing Lettuce

  • Sow lettuce seeds ¼ inch deep in wide rows. Sow bolt-resistant lettuce ½ inch deep.
  • To prevent soil crusting, sprinkle finely sifted compost or an organic potting soil over seeds.
  • Thin leaf lettuce seedlings to stand 6 to 8 inches apart and head lettuce to 12 inches apart.
  • Space rows 18 inches apart.
  • Lettuce must be thinned; lettuce that is too crowded will bolt.
  • Transplant rooted thinnings to another row or spot; transplanted lettuce will be set back a couple of weeks but it will come to harvest.
  • Plant 6 to 10 heads per person in the household.

More tips: Lettuce Seed Starting Tips.

Container Growing Lettuce

  • Lettuce grows well in containers.
  • Grow a single head of lettuce in a 6-inch container; set lettuce in larger containers on 10-inch centers.
  • Lettuce is heat sensitive so move containers to cooler spots if the temperature rises.

Cilantro grows between rows of lettuce.

Companion Plants for Lettuce

  • Grow lettuce with carrots, cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, and herbs including cilantro.

Caring for Lettuce

Feeding Lettuce

  • Feed lettuce with compost tea or manure tea every two weeks throughout the season.
  • You can also feed lettuce with aged compost or a commercial organic planting mix added as a mulch or side dressing around plants.

Watering Lettuce

  • Do not let shallow-rooted lettuce plants dry out. Keep planting beds evenly moist but not soggy.
  • Regular, even watering is required to form heads.
  • If the rain comes to the garden often mulch with straw around the base of plants to keep muddy soil off the leaves.

More on how to grow lettuce: Lettuce Growing Tips.

Long hot sunny days will cause lettuce to bolt–send up a flower stalk– and go to seed.

Lettuce Care

  • Long hot sunny days will cause lettuce to bolt–send up a flower stalk–and go to seed. After bolting, leaves will be bitter flavored.
  • Use shade cloth to partially protect lettuce from warm weather. (Place bitter tasting lettuce in the refrigerator for two and it will taste less bitter.)
  • Protect lettuce from cold nights or frost with cloches or row covers.

About lettuce and heat: Lettuce Bolting.

Lettuce Pests

  • Lettuce can be attacked by aphids, cutworms, leafminers, cabbage loopers, slugs, and snails.
  • Spray aphids way with water; put a collar around each plant to discourage cutworms; trap slugs and snails with a saucer of stale beer set flush to the soil.
  • Spray cabbage loopers with Bacillus thuringiensis or neem oil.
  • Leafminers are the larvae of a fly; exclude the fly from laying eggs by protecting plants with floating row covers. Pick off and destroy leaves with leafminer tunnels.

Lettuce Diseases

  • Lettuce has no serious disease problems.
  • Root and collar rot can occur where the soil stays wet.

More tips: Lettuce Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.

For loose-leaf varieties, cut outer leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis and allow inner leaves to remain and develop.

Harvesting and Storing Lettuce

  • For the best flavor and crisp texture pick lettuce when you need it and use right away.
  • For loose-leaf varieties, cut outer leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis and allow inner leaves to remain and develop. You can harvest the whole plant at once by cutting it off at ground level.
  • Harvest crisphead, cos, and butterhead lettuce when the heads are firm and mature. Cut heads at the crown just above soil level.
  • Harvest lettuce in the cool part of the day so that it does not wilt immediately. Chilling will crisp up wilted leaves.

Storing and Preserving Lettuce

  • Crisphead lettuce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
  • Loose-leaf, butterhead, and romaine lettuce will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Lettuce.

Grow lettuce in winter under a plastic tunnel or cold frame.

Lettuce Varieties to Grow

There are dozens of varieties of each type of lettuce. Ask your cooperative extension for specific recommendations for your region.

Lettuce types explained: Five Types of Lettuce.

About Lettuce

  • Common name: Lettuce, crisphead lettuce, Butterhead lettuce, stem lettuce (celtuce), leaf lettuce, cos, romaine
  • Botanical name: Lactuca sativa
  • Origin: Near East

More tips: How to Grow a Salad Garden

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