Lettuce is generally classified into four basic types and one of which is butter lettuce or butterhead.
As the name suggests, butterhead lettuces are varieties of lettuce that form loose, round heads. They are some of the best-looking lettuces, as they look like a beautiful flower with their loose arrangement of leaves. Besides the pretty looks, they’re also known for their soft and velvety texture and sweet and buttery flavor that melts in your mouth. While most of them are green in color, you can also find it in red. The shape, flavor profile, and texture of the red butter lettuce is the same as green butterhead. The only difference is that green butterhead is available all-year-round while red butter lettuce is only available in the spring and summer months.
Butterhead lettuce originated from the Mediterranean basin. Over time, hybrids were developed from the original genetic line. In the United States, the two best-known varieties are Bibb and Boston lettuce. That is why some call it interchangeably. But, how can you tell the difference between the two? Well, Bibb is smaller than Boston, making it popular on fine gourmet specialties. On the other hand, the leaves of Boston have a light green color and they are wider too.
Species: L. Sativa
Binomial Name: Lactuca Sativa L. var. capitata
Butterhead Lettuce Trivia
- John Bibb was the one who developed Bibb lettuce. He crossed the variety from Boston lettuce, while he was in Kentucky in the 1850s.
- Butterhead lettuce has similar effects to opium. The milky fluid that its stem secretes has sedative properties. Thus, it was prescribed to treat insomnia, palpitations, and intestinal spasms back in the days. In fact, one emperor tortured his guests by serving them butterhead lettuce as an appetizer. Since nodding off in front of his majesty is prohibited, his guests were forced to fight off their sleepiness for several hours.
- Butterhead lettuce was associated with sexual potency during the Roman and Egyptian times. It claims to increase the stamina, so they took advantage of it, along with some of its medicinal qualities.
Butterhead Lettuce Buying Guide
Buying a butterhead lettuce is relatively easy. It can be found anywhere and it’s also easy to tell the fresh ones from those that aren’t. Still, here are some basic guidelines on how to choose the best ones:
- The leaves of butterhead should be vibrant. Avoid the ones that are starting to wilt or have wilted, and discard the ones that have yellow or brown spots.
- The head of butterhead lettuce should also be firm and tight. Avoid the ones that are limping.
- Scratch and smell the stalk to know the exact flavor it provides. A sweet or bitter smell indicates a sweet or bitter flavor.
- Butterhead lettuce also has many hybrid varieties. But, they can be easily categorized into two color groups: classic green and red. The red ones are quite new, and the color was produced in response to the changing growing conditions. Still, their flavors vary slightly.
- If possible, buy organic butterhead lettuce. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, butterhead lettuce from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you’ll be able to meet and help your community.
Butterhead Lettuce Production & Farming in Texas
Butterhead lettuce is one of the easiest and most reliable crops to grow, especially in the United Kingdom as it can withstand the very cold conditions very well. But, butterheads can also tolerate the heat slightly.
In Texas, they are traditionally planted in the early or late spring, away from the intense summer sun and winter frost. And just like the other lettuces, they are started indoors, several weeks before the last frost of the season. It prefers a well-drained, cool, organic compost-rich, loose, moist soil with a pH level between 6.2 and 6.8. Likewise, they also need 6 to 8 hours of sun every day, though excessive heat or direct sunlight can cause them to bolt or wilt. Thus, it has to be placed in areas that are partially shaded, especially in summer. They usually take between 60 and 70 days to mature, so plan your plantings accordingly.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA.
Generally speaking, lettuce is susceptible to pests. That’s why they are often grown with high amounts of pesticides. And, it’s not something that can just be washed away with water. Even after a thorough cleaning, residues remain on the crop. As a matter of fact, during the testing period for the 2012 Dirty Dozen List, they found 78 different pesticides on them. Thus, it is better to buy organic ones or grow them yourself to reduce the amounts of your pesticide consumption.
Romaine lettuce is a sun-loving, cold-climate crop. They are widely produced around the world, but China remains to be the leading producer, accounting for 55% of the world’s total production by weight. In the United States, around 71% of the looseleaf lettuce comes from California, except from November to March when 90% of the country’s lettuce comes from the city of Yuma in Arizona.
Just like many lettuces and vegetables, butterhead lettuce is sold by the weight, either by the kilogram or pound – think of how they sell cabbage. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these greens in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Meanwhile, you can also buy butterhead lettuce seeds that come in pouches.
Enjoying Butterhead Lettuce
Butterhead lettuces are traditionally eaten raw or fresh. They are commonly served as salads, especially in fish salads like salad nicoise. But, they can also be found on sandwiches, wraps, and more. Its tender, mildly sweet, and slightly astringent flavor makes it the perfect salad for fruits, citrus, cheese, or nut-based dressings. Its wide leaves are also popular to be used as a wrap on fresh or whipped cheese like ricotta, cottage, or goat, or in replacement to tortillas on tacos. But, there’s more! Butterhead lettuce can also be stuffed with beans, salsa, and couscous.
Butterhead lettuce is extremely fragile compared to the other lettuces. Its leaves wilt very quickly, that’s why it is highly recommended for them to be kept in a perforated bag lined with paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Unwashed and properly stored, butterhead lettuce will retain its freshness for 3 to 5 days. Dressed, they will only last for 1 to 3 days.
Like the few other lettuce varieties, butterhead lettuce can also be enjoyed cooked. Their large, tender leaves make a wonderful addition to soups. The leaves can be roughly torn and added to it just before serving them. Or, it can be stirred directly onto the pot towards the end of cooking. Shredded leaves can also be added to stir-fries, and likewise, towards the end of cooking.
Butterhead lettuce is generally low in fat and calories. Not to mention that its calories are mainly composed of water and fiber – not sugar. It also has a considerable amount of protein per calorie. But, butterhead lettuce is mostly noted for its high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It’s high in vitamins A, B, C, and K, along with potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
When Are Butterhead Lettuce in Season in Texas?
To find out when Butterhead Lettuce are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.