Meet the 6 Most Common Types of Lettuce|Recipes Spots

  • on August 17, 2023
Meet the 6 Most Common Types of Lettuce

Head of Butter Lettuce
Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Lettuce is often lumped into one category of mild or bland leaves for salads, but this vegetable family is more exciting and complex than you might think. Here’s a guide to help you get to know the different types and, hopefully, give you a new appreciation for lettuce. 

Not All Fresh Salad Leaves Are Lettuce

The lettuce family is huge, but it doesn’t include things like arugula, chicories, or pea shoots (just to name a few). What’s included in this guide, and only what’s included in this guide, are true lettuces, all in the Asteraceae (daisy) family. 

Types of Lettuce

Lettuces can be divided into a few distinct categories, and each category contains more varieties than any of us will ever know. Not all lettuces can be treated the same way, so it’s good to get to know the differences.

Leaf Lettuce

An oval serving bowl with lettuce inside to make a summer picnic salad. Halved avocado, pasta salad, a head of lettuce and a linen with a spoon on top surround the bowl.
Simply Recipes / Kalisa Marie Martin

Leaf lettuces are soft and tender, but they don’t have hearts. They’re loose and floppy and open, like pom poms. Leaves in this category vary dramatically in shape, size, texture, color, color combinations and patterns. When it comes to flavor, they can be nutty or mineral-y, or bitter and astringent in a refreshing clean-feeling way, and they’re generally less sweet than other types. 

You’re likely familiar with red oak or royal oak leaf lettuces, but your local farmers market may have lots of fun varieties for you to discover. 

Pro tip: don’t let dressed leaf lettuces sit around; their delicate nature means they slump and get soggy pretty fast, so only dress them shortly before you plan to eat.


Old Bay Shrimp Rolls on a Plate with Lemon Wedges
Simply Recipes / Ross Yoder

Butterhead is another type of lettuce with loose soft leaves. There are two main types: Boston and Bibb. Boston types are larger with wider leaves, and tend to be more mild. Bibb are a little more tightly held together and might have more noticeable veins and ridges running throughout the leaves. 

These leaves are sweet and mildly astringent and, as the name suggests, have a melt-in-your-mouth sensation that might remind you of butter. Their ribs are succulent; dainty compared to the ribs on all other lettuce types. They’re perfect sandwich leaves, great to use for lettuce wraps, and they make the dreamiest looking salads. Like their tender leaf lettuce cousins, butter lettuce should only be dressed right before eating. 

Butterheads are one of the hydroponically-grown types you’ll find in grocery stores. They come protected in clamshell cases, which are perfect for transport and storage—just put the whole container in the fridge. These can keep for several days, especially if their roots are attached. 


Classic Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
Simply Recipes / Sheryl Julian

These are round heads of densely-packed leaves that are all about texture. They’re the mildest all the lettuces, but they’re also the sturdiest. You can’t make a classic wedge salad with any other type. Those pale balls of iceberg on grocery store shelves are crispheads. 

These don’t need delicate handling, and they can sit in the crisper drawer for several days if you need. The outer leaves might get sad, but peel those away and the rest will be fine. 

Romaine, or Cos

Lettuce heads for Caesar Salad
Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer

Romanie lettuces are upright heads of stiff narrow leaves that are crunchy and tender, a little sweet, and sometimes a little bitter (especially near the stalks). We’re most familiar with the long light green varieties sold in stores. There’s a whole world of romaine full of color and various shapes, sizes, and textures, though mostly small farmers and gardeners would know about with them.

The small varieties with sturdy leaves are ideal for swooping into dips or using as lettuce cups. The stiff, more densely-packed varieties are great for grilling or braising, or adding to soups.

Stored in a loosely closed bag lined with a paper towel, heads of romaine can hang out in the fridge for 5-7 days without getting too sad. 

Little Gems, or Sucrine

Greenest Spring Green Salad in a bowl.
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

These little cuties are short and shaped like romaine but with leaves that open up and outwards instead of clinging tightly closed. They’re a cross between romaine and butterhead, so they’re crisp, tender and buttery, and sweet without any bitter notes. Treat them just like Romaine, or swap them for butterhead leaves in a lettuce wrap. Raw or cooked, you can’t go wrong.  

Salad Mixes

Jar of Tarragon-Mustard Vinaigrette Poured onto a Salad (Various Lettuce Types, Sliced Tomatoes, and Sliced Avocado)
Simply Recipes / Annika Panikker

Baby salad mixes are made from leaves that are harvested when they’re young; instead of removing the whole head from the stalk, some leaves are snipped off. They often include more than lettuces—you might find baby sorrels, chicories, or mustards—and are by far the most convenient way to get your greens. They’re sold in stores year-round, often sealed in large plastic clamshells with nitrogen gas to prolong their shelf life. If you buy your greens like that, keep them in the clamshell for storage.

Store loose salad mixes in a container or a bag lined with a paper towel in the crisper drawer for up to 5 days (if you’re good about keeping them dry, they might last longer, but who lets lovely lettuces sit for that long?)

Article Categories:
Salad · Soups

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *