What to Do With Lettuce That Has Gone Bitter

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Do you have lettuce that’s gone bitter? Don’t throw it out! Here are some tips for using bitter lettuce.

what do do with bitter lettuce

Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden (or containers), but it’s also easy for it to go from sweet and juicy to bitter very quickly.

As someone who tends to neglect the garden, I know all about bitter lettuce. The sub-tropical climate doesn’t help this cool climate-loving plant either.

But if I’m going to go to the trouble of planting and tending it, I’m not going to waste the darn stuff!

If you can prevent your lettuce from going bitter, all the better. But if it does bolt there are some things you can do to minimise the bitterness.

What Causes Lettuce to Go Bitter?

There are several situations that can cause lettuce to go bitter. Heat is one. Water stress is another. Lettuce likes a regular feed – nutrition stress will also turn it bitter.

However, too much nitrogen is not much good either. Which is ok – that means less work. An occasional feed is sufficient.

The other factor is age – the older the plant the more bitter it grows. I like to pick just a few leaves off here and there for my salad, but eventually, you have to pick the whole plant or let it go to seed because the older it gets, the less palatable it becomes.

Preventing Bitter Lettuce

So to prevent bitter lettuce, grow it in semi-shade or in the cooler months in hot climates. You can also choose varieties that are best suited to your climate. Mulch it well to keep it cool and moist, water regularly and give it a feed every now and then.

There are also some tricks to picking lettuce to minimise the bitterness.

Pick your lettuce in the morning after it’s had the night to recover from the hot sun. Giving it a bit of water in the evening will also help. Immerse your leaves in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes or so, then dry and place in the fridge for a few hours.

The other tip is to wait until after it rains to pick your lettuce. Lettuce can go from bitter to sweet after a good shower (unless it’s really old). There’s nothing like real rain for the garden – tap water just isn’t the same.

What to do with Bitter Lettuce

If all else fails, you can cook your lettuce, which helps remove the bitterness. I find that when cooking lettuce, rather than eating a plate full of bitter greens, it’s better to mix it up with something sweeter, like spinach or silverbeet.

Some mixed wilted greens with mushrooms and another veg (there’s asparagus in the picture) served under a scrambled egg for breakfast is a lovely way to enjoy lettuce that’s past its prime, without letting it go to waste.

So if your lettuce is going bitter, don’t throw it in the compost just yet. See if you can revive it and if not, cook it. There’s life in those greens yet.

What’s your garden rescue story?

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  1. Thankyou! I have been tossing bitter lettuce (of which we have much) to the chooks. Dh will eat it but I love a cooked veg & never thought to cook it, though I do cook lettuce in winter.

    Thanks for writing as I enjoy & benefit from reading your posts!

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Thanks Karen. I bet the chooks have loved it though :). I wish we could have chooks.

  2. Great info. I will try it right away. My first lettuce crop of my adult life was plentiful but now it’s breaking my heart over the flavor change. I’ll do as you suggested.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Sherri, I hope it goes well.

  3. Lynn Troy says:

    What are chooks? and someone told me that Romaine lettuce will become toxic if you cook it. have you heard this Thank you.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Chooks is an Australian word for chickens.

      There’s no reason not to cook Romaine lettuce, it’s one of the better ones to cook. However…Romaine has been linked to several e-coli outbreaks in the US so keep abreast of your local food services for the latest advice in your area.

    2. Ty Buchanan says:

      You say silverbeet is sweet. I grow silverbeet and it is always pleasantly bitter.

  4. i once grew a lot of lettuce that all came in at once and I wasn’t paying attention, so it got too old and bitter. I couldn’t bring myself to compost it so I washed it, wrapped it in paper towels and put it in the fridge in a big plastic bag while I figured out what to do. In about a week, I went back and the cold from the fridge had taken the bitterness out completely. I don’t think this would work on lettuce that has started to bolt but, for younger lettuce, it’s a good trick.