What Are Tomatillos?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Fresh Tomatillos In a Bowl

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Tomatillos are small, round fruits, similar to tomatoes, that are harvested when green in late summer and into fall. They have a bright, acidic flavor and are popular in Mexican and southwestern cuisines.

facts about tomatillos
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What Are Tomatillos?

Tomatillos (pronounced "toe-mah-TEE-yos") are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and chile peppers. Also known as husk tomatoes, Mexican husk tomatoes, or jamberries, tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) are native to the Americas, and are especially common in Mexico and Guatemala. 

They're almost always harvested when green, although as they ripen they can turn yellow, purple or red, depending on the cultivar. But unlike most fruits and vegetables, it's the green, unripe tomatillos that have the most flavor.

Tomatillos are smaller than tomatoes, just an inch or two in diameter, and are covered with a papery husk that splits apart as the fruit grows. The husk starts out green but fades to brown as the fruit matures. In their unripe state, tomatillos have a bright, acidic flavor and a firm texture which lends itself to using in salsas, primarily the classic salsa verde, as well as various soups, stews, stir-frys, curries, chutneys, and dips such as guacamole. Eaten raw, they retain their bright tangy flavor, and when cooked, such as by braising, roasting or grilling, the tanginess mellows and gives way to mild sweetness. When combined with chiles, tomatillos help to mellow out their heat.

How to Cook with Tomatillos

Tomatillos are often used chopped and cooked into sauces to play a background note. 

The papery husks on tomatillos are pretty, but they need to be removed before cooking. Simply lift them off and discard them, twisting them off at the stem end if they're resistant. Once their husks are removed, the tomatillos underneath may feel a bit sticky. That's okay and normal. Just rinse them clean under cool running water and pat them dry. Again, don't remove their papery husks until you're ready to use them.

Tomatillos

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Tomatillos

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Tomatillos

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Tomatillos

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What Do They Taste Like?

Tomatillos have a bright, lemon-like flavor perfect with spicy food or alongside grilled items. They can also add a nice hit of acid to stews and other heavy fares.

Nutritional Value

A 100-gram serving of raw tomatillos is about 92 percent water and provides 32 calories, 6 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of fat, along with 2 grams of fiber.

Tomatillo Recipes

They have a fabulous lemony flavor that can carry a dish. Here are a few recipes that feature tomatillos. 

Where to Buy Tomatillos

Tomatillos are available in supermarket produce departments and farmers' markets starting in late summer and into autumn. They're usually sold in big piles, and there can be a lot of variance within those piles. Look for tomatillos that are firm but not rock-hard with husks that are fresh looking and more or less intact.

The husk can be split open, but you don't want them to have been handled so much that the husks are ripped off or torn to pieces, and you don't want them to have been sitting around long enough for the papery husk to be browned or brittle from being dried out.

Storage

Store tomatillos for a day or two at room temperature or for two to three weeks wrapped loosely in paper towels in the fridge. Whichever way you store them, leave their papery husks on until you're ready to use them. You can also freeze tomatillos. Just remove the husks and wash and dry them first. 

Tomatillos Vs. Green Tomatoes

Since tomatillos are small and green and look like green tomatoes, they are often confused with actual green tomatoes, which are simply the unripe versions of ordinary tomatoes. But these two fruits are actually different species, although they are from the same botanical family. Green tomatoes are tomatoes that didn’t ripen by the end of the growing season. so they are commonly seen in late summer and early autumn, which happens to be when tomatillos are in season as well. 

But you'll recall that green tomatillos are themselves the unripe versions of tomatillos, so the two actually have quite a bit in common. They both have a tart, acidic flavor and firm, almost crunchy texture, and can be used in many of the same ways. The most obvious difference is that tomatillos have a husk on them, and are much smaller than green tomatoes.

Article Sources
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  1. Tomatillos, raw. FoodData Central, U.S. Department of Agriculture