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How Much Like Actual Butter Does Butter Lettuce Taste?

Is it all a bait-and-switch by Big Lettuce, or a nice way to sweeten up a healthy diet?

If you thought this article was going to be about the fine art of dipping lettuce in melted butter, wrapping it around something cheesy and bacon-y, and then fried into a ballpark-friendly lettuce wrap, your heart is in the right place. However, your heart might be somewhat relieved to learn we’re talking about something far more healthy than how to turn ordinary lettuce into an artery clogger.

Butter lettuce is the Kentucky-bred cousin of Boston lettuce, and don’t be ashamed if you didn’t know that (I know several Bostonians who don’t like to publicly claim their cousins from Kentucky; why would familial lettuce relationships be any different?). In fact, this particular lettuce family comes complete with a redheaded stepchild, which we’ll be introduced to in just a few moments.

Flyover-state jokes aside, butter lettuce is regarded as one of the most nutrient-rich forms of lettuce. Its name is owed to its buttery texture, and isn’t to any inconspicuous fat content or buttery flavor concealed beneath the greenery.

I’ve never heard of this butter lettuce before. I kind of just thought lettuce was lettuce.

This is completely understandable given the predominance of iceberg lettuce. That’s the crispy lettuce that’s been served either on or with every Burger King Whopper, Wendy’s Classic Double, Subway Footlong or Outback House Salad you’ve ever had in your life. In essence, if you go to most restaurants and order something that includes lettuce in the recipe, it’s going to be iceberg lettuce unless it’s specified otherwise — in which case it’s more than likely going to be romaine lettuce.

Is there something wrong with iceberg lettuce?

It’s not that there’s something wrong with it per se; there’s just nothing particularly right with it either. The enjoyability of lettuce all depends on how much you engage in eating for the sake of the sensations and textures involved, which a lot of us do. In its favor, iceberg lettuce has a satisfying crunch, and a refreshing quantity of water content. In the neutral column, iceberg lettuce has virtually no nutrient value, and has surprisingly little fiber. So in all fairness, it isn’t doing anything harmful, but it isn’t really doing anything nutritionally productive either. 

Is butter lettuce any better? 

Indeed. Butter lettuce — also known to its friends as “buttercrunch” or “butterhead” — contains tons of nutrient content. It may look droopy standing next to iceberg lettuce, but it puts meaningful numbers on the scoreboard. A 100-gram serving of butter lettuce delivers 13 calories and 13 different nutrients to your system, including 66 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin A. So if you actually want your lettuce to do something, butter lettuce is a solid option.

Things don’t change substantially if you insert red butter lettuce into the mix either. Your body will still be receiving a mouthful of vitamin A with every bite you take.

Intriguing! So how does butter lettuce compare to romaine lettuce?

Very favorably. You may find a graphic floating around online that compares butter lettuce to romaine lettuce on a literal head-to-head basis, comparing the nutritional content of one head of butter lettuce (163 grams) to one head of Romaine lettuce (626 grams). However, if you equalize the grams, the nutritional content between these two forms of lettuce is virtually identical. That said, if you’re looking for lettuce that packs more of a nutritional punch, both fit the bill. 

But is there a cost difference? I don’t want to overpay for a similarity in performance.

Performance isn’t all about the nutrient content. Romaine lettuce is known for its bitter flavor, which not everyone enjoys. In fact, in many Jewish traditions, romaine lettuce is included in a dish that is intentionally bitter and intended to symbolically reflect the harshness endured by the Jews at the hands of the Ancient Egyptians. If your favorite lettuce can be used as an allegorical stand-in for literal slavery, you might want to think about getting a new lettuce.  

On the other hand, butter lettuce is known for its mild sweetness, which means many eaters will find it comparatively more pleasant than romaine lettuce on a bite-for-bite basis. However, to answer your question, yes, butter lettuce is more expensive on an ounce-per-ounce basis. Heads of butter lettuce frequently weigh in at between five and eight ounces, and cost in the neighborhood of $2.80 to $4.50 each. Meanwhile, a 24-ounce heart of romaine lettuce will set you back up to $6, and iceberg lettuce tends to average around $1.50 per 17-ounce head.

But hey, you get what you pay for. Which isn’t butter, but like butter, it can also make the sum of your culinary parts taste better than they have any business being.

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