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What is a Tomatillo?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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The tomatillo, or husk tomato, is a relative of the common tomato native to Latin America, where it is still popular in cuisine. It has been cultivated for thousands of years, and the plant were introduced to Europe after the conquest of Central America. Tomatillos were widely accepted in Europe as an exotic, flavorful fruit that enhanced a wide number of dishes. They are sometimes difficult to find in conventional markets, but they are usually available in Hispanic grocery stores.

The plant is an annual, growing as an upright leafy bush in the nightshade family. The fruit is green, sometimes with purple streaks, and enclosed in a papery husk. Often, the husk will split as it reaches ripeness, although this is not necessarily a desired trait. Usually, tomatillos are brought to market with husks on, although consumers storing them should remove them for longer refrigerated life. With their husks removed and proper refrigeration, the fruit can last up to two weeks.

When picking out a tomatillo at the grocery store, shoppers should look for a fresh looking husk, rather than one that is brown or wrinkled. The fruit, if it can be felt, should be firm to the touch, and those that are soggy or discolored should not be purchased. If the grocery store permits it, consumers can peel the husk back to check the color as well.

Tomatillos require growing conditions similar to tomatoes, including warm weather with several hours of sun each day and moist soil. They can be grown from seedlings, which should be planted after the last frost. Because of the wide variety of climates in Latin America, the fruit is available year round in some markets, if customers are persistent. The fruit is best when it is still green and has not yet burst the husk, and more mature yellowing fruits are often extremely soft and sweet.

The fruit can have a refreshing, crisp flavor that is an excellent complement to salsas and other Mexican dishes. They can either be eaten raw or briefly blanched in a pan until their skins burst, creating a smooth sauce to work with. The tomatillo is also rich in vitamin C, making it nutritious in addition to delicious. Chilies complement its cool flavor very well, and they can be mixed as a sauce and fresh coriander for a simple salsa.

Some gardeners use it as an ornamental plant, because the striking husked tomato can be quite attractive. If used ornamentally, the fruit should still be harvested and eaten or given away so that it doesn't make an unsightly mess of the ground below the bush.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon991148 — On May 31, 2015

I am a little confused. The plants have all the traits and looks of a cape gooseberry but it sounds like you eat them green.

Cape gooseberries covering, when ripe, turns light brown then becomes skeletal and see through. The fruit is golden and very sweet.

By burcidi — On Nov 09, 2012

@ZipLine-- It kind of reminds me of citrus fruit, but it's not really eaten as fruit. It's mostly added to foods like tomatillo enchiladas and rice.

If you get these expecting them to be anything like tomatoes, you will be shocked, they really are far from it in my opinion.

I do like tomatillos and once in a while I crave them. I had eaten them several times on my study abroad trip in Brazil. But it's so hard to find them where I live in the US. I have never seen it at supermarkets and we don't really have South American groceries. I'd imagine it'd be kind of expensive even if it was available.

By SteamLouis — On Nov 08, 2012

@ZipLine-- I'm not sure how to describe the flavor to you but it doesn't taste like tomatoes. It has a different texture and tastes more like fruit. When you peel the husk though, it does resemble green tomatoes from the outside.

Tomatillo salsa is really good. I ate them for the first time at a Mexican restaurant and then I started buying tomatillos from the Mexican grocery store to make it at home. The salsa made from tomatillos is sweeter and more filling and I really like that.

By ZipLine — On Nov 07, 2012

This sounds like a cool fruit, I've never had it before.

Does tomatillo taste like tomatoes?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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