Butter Lettuce

butterhead-lettuceBy Kurt Nolte

• Butter lettuce originated from the Mediterranean basin. Other varieties were developed as hybrids from the original genetic line. The two best-known varieties of butter lettuce in the U.S. are Bibb and Boston lettuce. How do you tell them apart? Boston’s leaves are wider and lighter green than Bibb’s. The smaller Bibb is highly prized by gourmets, and it is the flavorful rose and red tinged varieties that ‘steal the show’ with taste and beauty.

• Bibb owes its name to John Bibb who developed this variety in Kentucky from Boston lettuce in the 1850s.

• Butter lettuce, as its name suggests, is so tender that it melts in the mouth like butter, particularly the heart, when the lettuce is picked. It forms a loose head of large leaves resembling an open rose. The name “Boston,” though typically North American, may be found anywhere. The flavor of butter lettuce is very subtle: it lends itself to countless uses.

• Butter lettuce is composed of 96 percent water and is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, vitamins A, B, C and K and, contains 1.3 percent protein.

• Butter lettuce is very fragile and its leaves wilt quickly. Experts suggest that butter lettuce should be stored in a perforated bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Select nice, unwilted green leaves with no signs of damage or yellowing.

• Its wide leaves can be used to wrap whipped goat cheese, or fresh cheese such as ricotta or cottage cheese seasoned with herbs.

• Butter lettuce is also nice in regular sandwiches. You can put quite a bit of butter lettuce into a sandwich, so that the lettuce becomes an important part of the filling, but one which doesn’t overshadow whatever ‘main’ filling you use, even if it’s fairly subtle flavored. As with salads, though, you should consider the lettuce’s delicacy, and serve the sandwiches immediately after preparation.

• Butter lettuce is available in two varieties, the classic green and the newer red variety. The differences go beyond color. The leaf texture and tightness of the head of the two varieties seem to respond differently to changing growing conditions, so if you don’t see just what you want in green, look at the red, and vice versa.

• Butter lettuces have small, round, loosely formed heads with soft, butter-textured leaves ranging from a multitude and degree of red and rosy colors along with greens and yellow tinges. The flavor is sweet and succulent. Because the leaves are quite tender, butter lettuce requires gentle washing and handling.

Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at knolte@cals.arizona.edu or 726-3904. For additional information please visit https://extension.arizona.edu/yuma