What Is Butter Lettuce And What Does It Taste Like?

Lettuce is always good to have on hand in the kitchen. Its crisp, fresh taste and slightly crunchy texture makes a great base for salads or carb-free wraps as well as a prime topping for burgers and sandwiches. 

An agricultural report in 1885 made claim to 87 distinct types of lettuce, according to Berkeley Wellness — and though that number is hypothetically even larger today with advancements in hybridization, most lettuce is categorized into five categories based on their leaf formation, says Gardening Know How, providing countless options so you're never bored with leafy greens and can get more into your diet. Among them are iceberg/crisphead that has a cabbage-like head, the large leaf summer crisp, thick-ribbed romaines, loose leaf (with no head and heart), and finally butterhead or bibb lettuce that is soft on the exterior. 

While iceberg is one of the most typical, seen in salad bars and restaurants everywhere, there are a ton of other picks that can bring a new flavor, color, and feel to your next meal. From Belgian endive and frisée, to little gems, there are a plethora to pick from — a great one is butter lettuce. When you think of the ever-popular lettuce wrap tacos, it's most likely the butter variety, and there's good reason why this hearty, leafy plant is great for your next dish.

What is butter lettuce?

Bright green butter lettuce, or what is also known as bibb or Boston lettuce, is a bundle of tender, round-shaped leaves often with the roots still attached when you find them at the supermarket — this is meant to preserve their level of freshness and to prevent wilting, since butter lettuce is pretty fragile. 

Unlike more traditional iceberg types, these leaves are smooth and loosely together rather than bunched up tight. Because of the surface space of these greens, and the fact that they are rounder in shape, they are great for "scooping" items in and act as "boats" for tacos and wraps when you don't want a carbohydrate. The silky leaves of butter lettuce also make for a great salad topped with lemon, oil, feta cheese, and whatever else you may like on top.

Though it has other common American names like Boston lettuce, it's said that butter lettuce originated in the Mediterranean and compliments many of those cultural style dishes. The Gardening Channel adds that butter lettuce originates from an older type known as Silesia and that goes as far back as the year 1744. 

What does butter lettuce taste like?

The leaves of butter lettuce are noticeably sweet, making it a great flavor to pair with a vinaigrette, herbs, and even fruits for a variety of salad styles. The sweet flavor also pairs well with ripe cheeses and citrus-marinated meats, such as chicken or salmon coated in lemon. Although it does have butter in the name, this lettuce of course does not have the same flavor. But, similar to butter, these soft greens melt in your mouth thanks to their tender texture.

Because the flavor is so minimal, butter lettuce makes a great choice for getting your daily greens in a variety of ways. Add to any type of sandwich — butter lettuce will pair well with whatever you add in the mix from meats to toppings. Similarly, the large-leafed vegetable allows for a boat of flavors to be filled right in the center — any seasoned meat will do. Put directly in the center of the lettuce and fold up for the perfect low-cal dinner and a well-balanced meal.

How to cook with butter lettuce

Butter lettuce isn't sold in large quantities like other types, meaning you can be more discerning with how much you buy so it doesn't go to waste before wilting, as this tender style of green is more prone to a quicker expiration. Though when fresh they are never limp or weak. And since it can be a bit pricier than iceberg lettuce, it's good to know you'll get your money's worth when you do bring it home and use it up.

Two big salads or a few side salads throughout the week are a solid way to use butter lettuce. The leaves also lend themselves well to sandwich toppings, tortilla replacements, or even burger bun swaps because of their size, good texture, and crunch. You can also use them for wraps as well, such as an Asian chicken wrap or tuna salad wrap.

While butter lettuce isn't necessarily the star of a main dish, unless in a salad, the great benefit of this type is it pairs well with just about anything. They are durable leaves, and the whole head can be used from top to bottom. When you bring it home, the best idea to keep it fresh is to put a damp paper towel around it and place in a plastic bag in the fridge — and only wash prior to eating it.

The nutritional value of butter lettuce

Lettuce of any kind is always a healthful choice with plenty of nutrients — and butter lettuce is no different. It probably comes as no surprise that butter lettuce has little to no calories, with one cup only having a whopping five calories in total, according to The U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of course, there's virtually no fat either.

The best thing about this sweet leaf is all the vitamins and minerals it has to offer, including 53% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A and 5% of vitamin C (via The USDA). It also offers doses of vitamin K, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. 

There is a high water content to butter lettuce — similar to most leafy greens — and like other varieties, it may sometimes contain lactucarium, a mild sedative. Because of this, it was once used as an herbal medicine to treat insomnia in Europe, which is a reason the French tend to finish a meal with salad, according to The Spruce Eats.