Sweet Butterhead Lettuce

So, we just discussed the Crisphead variety in our last article on lettuce. There is still another head lettuce within the five distinct lettuce varieties known as Butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitate). The Butterhead lettuce has a slightly sweet buttery taste and forms a looser leafed head than that of the Crisphead. This lettuce is also known as Butter, Boston, or Bibb. While Butter and Boston are just other names for Butterhead lettuce, Bibb is actually a slightly smaller cultivar of Butterhead lettuce and was the first of the Butterheads to be grown in the U.S. Butterhead and Bibb can be used interchangeably in recipes with no effect on the outcome of the dish.

Butterhead, like all varieties of lettuce, is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean area and then advancing through Europe by the latter part of the 16th century. The Butterhead lettuce as a distinct variety is thought to have emerged in the 18th century. The Bibb cultivar of the Butterhead lettuce is thought to have originated in the U.S. in Kentucky in the 19th century. It later gained popularity in the 1950’s, and then even more so in the 1980’s when it became a favorite of aquaponic greenhouse growers.

Being a lettuce, and one the develops a head, the planting, growing, and harvesting conditions for this variety are nearly identical to that of the Crisphead lettuce. To see how to take care of your head lettuces check out the Crisphead lettuce article. Note that the head for the Butterheads will be slightly smaller than the Crisphead variety, and can also be harvested when the first tender leaves appears. This type of harvesting can thin out your crop and produce microgreens for you to use.

The Nutrition and Delicious Butterhead

While similar to the Crisphead lettuce, the Butterheads do offer a bit more nutrition in a serving. In one cup (55 grams) of Butterhead lettuce there are 7 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 1 gram of carbohydrate (with just over 0.5 gram being dietary fiber). Butterhead lettuce is an excellent source of Vitamins A and K-1 and a good source of Vitamin B-9 (folate). It also offers Vitamin C, calcium, non-heme iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc.

Due to Butterheads sweeter buttery taste, they make excellent simple salads with minimal ingredients. My favorite way to prepare a Butterhead lettuce is with an herby dressing to compliment the lettuce’s delicious taste, like this one here:

Butterhead Lettuce Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette

1 head of Butterhead Lettuce, leaves separated (Bibb can be substituted)
2 green onions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place all ingredients, except lettuce, into a blender
Blend until pureed
Arrange lettuce leaves on serving plates and drizzle vinaigrette over leaves
Garnish with tarragon and parsley sprigs or green onions if you have some leftover

Butterhead lettuce also makes a great base for meat salads, such as beef, pork, or chicken. To make a delicious salad recipe using steak try this one here:

Butterhead Salad with Grilled Steak

1 flat iron steak (approximately 16 oz.)
1 head of Butterhead Lettuce, leaves separated (Bibb can be substituted)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely shredded

Juice from 2 blood orange
Juice from 6 limes
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed, and minced
2 tablespoon brown spicy mustard
3 tablespoon raspberry blush vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all marinade/dressing ingredients in a bowl
Whisk until well combined
Place half of the marinade/dressing in a gallon-size plastic resealable bag
Cover and refrigerate the remaining half to use as the salad dressing
Place steak in bag with marinade
Place in a refrigerator for at least 1 hour
Preheat grill on medium-high heat or oven to 400°
Grill steak for 7 minutes per side on medium heat, turning once or cook on a broiler pan in oven for 15 minutes
Take steak from grill or oven and let rest for 10 minutes
Thinly slice steak
Arrange lettuce on serving plates
Top with steak and onions
Drizzle dressing over steak salad
Sprinkle cheese on top

Lett-uce Learn On

Butterhead lettuce is a delightful variety of lettuce that is nice to grow and even nicer to eat. It makes a great addition to your garden and is great in salads, whether they are a side dish or the main course of dinner. As we continue on with our lettuce series of articles get ready to explore leaf lettuce! Happy growing and see you next time.


Hard, G. 2017. Regents of the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Extension. Growing salad vegetable crops.

United States Department of Agriculture. Lettuce.

University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. College of ACES. Lettuce.

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