Lettuce wraps! What’s all the rage? Lettuce wraps are enjoyable because lettuce adds crispy freshness to your meal and is a lighter alternative to flour or corn tortillas. Lettuce wraps are also a great substitute when you feel bloated and lethargic at dinner time and don’t want the additional carbs to weigh you down. Swapping a lettuce wrap for a flour tortilla or hard shell taco can ease your stomach, which can help you feel lighter and sleep better.
Now that you are curious about lettuce wraps, what lettuce is best to wrap up your Asian chicken lettuce wraps or honey Dijon chicken?
In this article we’ll get into the best lettuce for lettuce wraps and offer some alternatives in case it’s unavailable at your next trip to the store. We’ll also shed light on why texture, flavor, leaf shape and size are characteristics that make certain varieties of lettuce more wrap worthy than others.
The Best Lettuce for Lettuce Wraps
Butter lettuce, also called Boston of Bibb lettuce, is hands down the best lettuce for lettuce wraps. It’s preferred over other leaf varieties because butter lettuce leaves not only fit in the palm of your hand but they are naturally cup shaped and can hug any filling.
Butter lettuce is also subtly sweet and mild in flavor so it won’t compete with your filling. Plus, according to lettuceinfo.org, butter lettuce is the most nutritious lettuce on this list boasting .68mg of iron and 131mg of potassium and is higher in most vitamins and minerals.
Keep reading to learn more about why butter lettuce’s texture, shape, size and more make it the best choice for lettuce wraps and some alternatives you can pick up in case it’s out of stop on your next shopping trip.
Three Alternative Lettuce Varieties for Wraps
While butter lettuce may be #1 on your list, it may not be available at your local grocer. If you can’t find butter lettuce but are craving lettuce wraps don’t worry there are other varieties that will get the job done. Romaine hearts, iceberg lettuce or green leaf lettuce each offer great taste and crunch and can be substituted as an alternative to butter lettuce for wraps.
Romaine Hearts: Romaine hearts offer a strong crunch at the end (or beginning if you prefer) of your wrap. Romaine also has quite long leaves! The length of a romaine leaf allows you to have a more burrito-like wrap. You can wrap the leaves over themselves just like any ol’ tortilla. Romaine tastes slightly more bitter than the others although its flavor is still mild and won’t compete with your filling.
Iceberg Lettuce: Out of all the varieties we suggest, iceberg is the only tightly bound lettuce on the list. Its leaves are thick and crispy with a mild sweet flavor and have a high water-content. Iceberg lettuce has two similarities to butter lettuce. First, iceberg lettuce has a natural curvature for hugging your steak. Second, iceberg has a similar size leaf to butter lettuce. This size again, means that you will never have to let go of your wrap… until you finished eating it, of course.
Green Leaf Lettuce: Green leaf lettuce earned its spot on the list because it combines the soft texture of butter lettuce with the size of romaine hearts. Unlike romaine hearts, green leaf lettuce has a wavy edge (see details in the photo below). The wavy edge combined with the length of its leaves makes it more durable. This means you can eat more of the leaf and won’t have to fold or cut off a weak end-we’ll cover this more in the next section! Green leaf lettuce is also a preferred choice for home gardeners as its easy to grow and can be grown in containers and small spaces.
What Makes Lettuce Good for Wraps?
Now that you know which lettuce works best for wraps, let’s get into what characteristics such as texture, sturdiness, flexibility, taste and flavor make lettuce great for wraps.
The 5 Main Characteristics of Lettuce
To make a wrap out of any type of leafy green, you will need a lettuce that provides sturdiness. Butter and iceberg lettuce are larger in size which increases their sturdiness since you can hold the wrap in your palm. If you choose green leaf lettuce or romaine hearts, the length of its leaves cultivate the sturdiness because you can fold the leaves over themselves.
One problem with romaine is that the non-crunchy end of the leaf tends to not have enough strength to hold your wrap’s contents. This lack of strength, although isolated, leaves you eating a few bites of pure lettuce. To solve this simply fold or cut off the weak end.
Another important characteristic when choosing a lettuce for a lettuce wrap is flexibility. Romaine hearts and green leaf lettuce have longer leaves which lend themselves to more folders and a larger sturdier wrap. Butter and iceberg offer the same kind of flexibility but on a smaller scale.
A lettuce’s texture also plays a vital role in wrap creation. For example, lettuce’s texture has the power to deliver both the soft tortilla and hard shell taco experience. If you want a softer texture, opt for butter or green leaf lettuce. Butter lettuce’s texture can be described as delicate and buttery while still being hearty. If you want a more rustic crunch go with romaine hearts or iceberg lettuce. The only thing you want to remember is to not buy a leaf with only crunch because its leaves will lack flexibility.
Taste and Flavor
All lettuce types mentioned have a natural ability to hold taste and flavor. Think about it for a second, lettuce-usually used as a salad base-gets dressing poured on it all day without compromising taste or flavor.
Lettuce’s subtle sweetness serves the contents of your wrap up on a silver platter. Green leaf lettuce also has, according to lettuceinfo.org, a very mild flavor. Younger leaves tend to be mildly sweet in flavor while leaves that have matured develop a semi-bitter taste.
While all of the previously mentioned lettuce types won’t overpower your wrap’s contents, I suggest green leaf lettuce for people starting to adjust into the taste of the greens.
Steer clear of kale or arugula (if arugula had a leaf size large enough to make a wrap) for those just getting into lettuce wraps. Kale and arugula have a naturally bitter taste which may distract from the delicious flavors from within the wrap.
Shape and Size of the Leaves – Are they Easy to Separate?
We recently discussed how the lettuce types mentioned have particular shapes and sizes to aid in wrap sturdiness. One more quick note on size though: Make sure to purchase a lettuce type that is at least the size of your palm. Anything smaller and you will need a fork!
Now let us cover how lettuce’s easy to separate leaves are great for wrap making.
While a whole head of butter lettuce may look intimidating, its leaves are easy to separate. Butter, iceberg and green leaf lettuce’s leaves gently snap off each other like pulling a leaf off the stem of a flower. Iceberg lettuce has one extra step in separation, which you can read about in the last section.
How to Pick Lettuce at the Store
Pre-washed or Un-washed
Personally, I enjoy buying unwashed heads of lettuce. While pre-washed packaged leaves offer the convenience of not having to wash your leaves before making your wrap they tend to spoil faster than an unwashed head. If you’re planning dinner for the week and will need your lettuce to last a few days you’ll want to buy a head of lettuce. Remove and wash only the leaves you need each day to keep your lettuce lasting up to a week.
Color, Holes or Tears
Lettuce that has had to travel far (sometimes from other countries) can be put through the ringer during its journey. It’s also exposed to water, humidity and colder temperatures while in the refrigerated produce section at your supermarket. Be picky when choosing lettuce!
You’ll want to look for lettuce with a fully formed head. The leaf color should be a rich green color and have a firm texture. Stay away from lettuce where the leaves are discolored, bruised or contain any holes or tears.
Boxed, Bagged or Exposed Lettuce
Store bought lettuce can be packaged in a variety of ways. This shouldn’t impact the quality of your lettuce. However, if you choose to buy boxed or bagged lettuce, it’s best to check out what is happening at the bottom. If the bottom looks fresh (and not a sludgy mess), it’s safe to buy.
Abra Berens, executive chef and winner of the James Beard Award says to “buy exposed lettuce that feels heavy in the hand (today.com)”. She also says to not be surprised if the outside leaves are a little beat up. As long as the inside of the head feels firm, there be lots of food there.
How to Prepare Lettuce for Wraps
Prepping Butter Lettuce, Romaine Hearts or Green Leaf Lettuce
When it comes to prepping butter lettuce, romaine hearts or green leaf lettuce the process is very similar. Use these easy to follow instructions to ensure you’re lettuce is ready to wrap up your next meal.
- Separate the head of the lettuce into individual leaves.
- Rinse and dry the leaves.
- Paper towels are thinner than regular dish towels and are able to get into every nook and cranny of the lettuce leaf.
- Dish towels are more absorbent and are reusable. Try using only one paper towel and then laying the lettuce leaves to dry on a reusable dish towel as shown in the photo below.
- Pro tip: For loose leaf lettuce varieties. Lay washed lettuce leaves in a single layer on a long sheet of paper towels. Roll the lettuce up in the paper towel an place in a zipper plastic bag. The paper towels will help to absorb the extra water on the lettuce leaves and help them to last longer (around 5-7 days in the refrigerator).
Prepping Iceberg Lettuce
Since iceberg lettuce comes in a big dense ball its prep is different than the other varieties: Here is a foolproof way to prepare you iceberg for lettuce wraps!
- First, remove the core by cutting it out.
- Then you’ll want to run water throughout the opening to disperse through the leaves.
- Run water through the core which will help you to separate the leaves without tearing them.
- Lastly, use your towel of choice to dry.
This quick video by The Primal Desire demonstrates the “under the water method” which makes separating the leaves super easy!