Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and romaine seem to be getting the most attention these days, but some other lesser-known greens are equally delicious and packed with the crucial vitamins, minerals, and fiber that greens are famous for. Take butter lettuce, for example. With its impressive nutrient profile and an often-sweet, melt-in-your-mouth texture, butter lettuce makes a fabulous addition to any salad, wrap, or soup. Break up your green routine, and pick up some butter lettuce this spring!
Butter lettuce has a rounded head of dark green leaves, usually about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Bibb varieties of butter lettuce may be a bit smaller, but have deep green leaves. Boston butter lettuce has lighter green leaves. Other butter lettuce varieties may have broad green leaves with a slight red tint.
The taste of butter lettuce is both robust and soft. It has a hearty, astringent, leafy green taste and a tender, buttery texture that melts on your tongue quickly. It is enjoyed either raw or cooked.
Butter lettuce is widely available, especially during peak season, at major supermarkets.
Although it’s available year-round, peak season for butter lettuce in the US and Europe is late spring to early summer.
Choose butter lettuce with full, dark green leaves. Some experts claim you can scratch the stalk to release a bitter or sweet scent to indicate the flavor of the lettuce. Avoid heads with limp, wilted, or discolored leaves, as this is a sign they are overripe.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Butter lettuce is not specifically highlighted on any list, but lettuce is ranked #15—close to the “Dirty Dozen” list of affected fruits and vegetables. You might consider buying organic butter lettuce to avoid pesticide exposure.
However, the Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Before refrigerating broad leaf greens such as butter lettuce, soak the leaves in a tub of cold water, then rinse. Depending on how dirty the leaves are, this step may need to be repeated. Drain the leaves in a colander and fully dry them in a salad spinner or with kitchen paper. Then wrap the leaves in dry kitchen paper, and place them in a plastic zippered bag in the crisper for up to 4 to 5 days.
The broad leaves of butter lettuce should be soaked in a tub of cold water once or twice to fully clean them. Drain the leaves in a colander, then pat dry with kitchen paper or whirl them in a spinner. Tear or chop the leaves as needed depending on the recipe.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
Butter lettuce is a rich source of antioxidants. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also cause, in part, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential damage.
Butter lettuce and other dark leafy greens also contain high amounts of beta carotene, which is especially important for eye and immune health.
- Butter lettuce has many aliases, including butterhead, Bibb, and Boston. But the Bibb variety, named after horticulturalist John Bibb, is bred slightly smaller.
- Butter lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties. Some people recommend steeping lettuce leaves for 15 minutes, seasoning the hot water with mint, and sipping this cup of comfort to promote better sleep.
- Butter lettuce is a great addition to a garden, because you can harvest many times from the same plant throughout the growing season.