Tomatillos Cooking Growing And Eating

photo credit: gourmetsleuth

About Tomatillos

Tomatillos are pronounced [toh-MAH-tee-YO]
Botanical name: Physalis philadelphica. A relative of the tomato and member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family tomatillos provide that tart flavor in a host of Mexican green sauces. In Mexico the fruit is called tomates verdes, tomates de cascara as well as fresadillas.

The fruits average about 1 -2" wide and have a papery outer skin. The tomatillo is actually used when it is still green. If you see the photo below one of the tomatillos is just turning a light yellow and indicates that is ripe and past its prime for most uses. Tomatillos have a very tart flavor, not at all like a tomato.

Tomatillo History

The Aztecs domesticated the tomatillo and the fruit dates back to at least 800 B.C. The Aztec word tomatl means something "round and plump". Europeans that came to the New World and documented the local foods often confused the food names. According to Sophie Coe we are never quite sure which tomato writers were referring to whether it be the tomato or the tomatillo. The Aztec word for tomato (as we know the fruit) is xitomatl and the husk tomato (tomatillo) was call miltomatl. Europeans frequently shortened both names to tomatl and therein lies the confusion. Ms. Coe suggests that in most cases references were in fact to the tomatillo not what we know today as a tomato.

The confusion is carried on today. In many areas of Mexico the domesticated tomatillo is called tomate and the wild version called miltomate and what we know as tomato is called jitomate.

The tomatillo never gained in popularity with Europeans and it was the tomato that was taken to Italy where it grew well in the Mediterranean climate. Today, the tomatillo is common in the U.S. as the Hispanic population has increased.

Buy And Store

Tomatillos are frequently available in large chain grocery stores as well as most Mexican markets. Select unblemished fruit that complete fill their papery outside skin.

tomatillos in a binStorage

If you grow your tomatillos you can pull up the entire plant and store in a cool, dark, dry area and remove the fruits as needed. Purchased tomatillos can be stored in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks. Wrap loosely in paper in a single layer or place in paper back and keep in the coolest section of your refrigerator.

Freezing Tomatillos

The easiest method to freeze tomatillos is to remove the papery husks, clean them and pop them into freezer-weight zipper lock bags. When you want to use them remove as many as you like and thaw.

The tomatillos can also be cleaned, sliced and frozen as well but because you are exposing more surface to the air there will be more vitamin loss as well as potential flavor loss.

Prepare and Use Tomatillos

Remove and discard the papery husks from the tomatillo, rinse, dry and use per your recipe. Tomatillos are not usually seeded prior to use.

Medicinal Uses

In Mexico a concoction made of the flower calyces is used to treat Diabetes. The fruits are also used as a remedy for fever.

Culinary Uses

Although mostly the tomatillo is used cooked it can be eaten raw. It's commonly used in salsas as well as stews and sauces for meats. It is also made into jams and marmalades.

Featured Recipe - Salsa de Tomatillo con Aguacate

by Zarela Martinez

This versatile sauce is served with some classic Veracruzan antojitos (appetizers, snacks). It also goes well with grilled meats, chicken and fish. Since discovering it, I've taken to using it like a lighter, spicier guacamole. The chunky-textured original was made with a Mexican stone mortar and pestle. If using a food processor or blender, adjust the texture to your liking. It's good chunky, but I've also come to enjoy it puréed very smooth.

  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in chunks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 - 3 (or to taste) serrano chiles, stems removed, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 pound tomatillos (6 - 8 average-sized tomatillos), cut into quarters
  • 4 - 6 cilantro sprigs
  • 1 ripe Mexican-type avocado (Hass or Fuerte)

In a food processor or blender, process the garlic and salt to a paste. Scrape down the sides if necessary with a rubber spatula; add the onion, chiles, tomatillos, and cilantro. Process with an on-off motion to make a slight chunky puree. Scoop out the avocado flesh into the machine and process to the desired smoothness. Serve within 1 hour (or preferably at once).

Yield: About 2 1/4 cups

tomatillos in a molcajete  

More Tomatillo Recipes

Although my favorite used for tomatillos is a good Chile Verde, we have lots of great recipes that feature tomatillos.


Nutrition Information For Tomatillos Cooking Growing And Eating

Serving Size
1 medium
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
Saturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 0mg
Total Carbohydrate 2g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 1g
Protein 0g
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Grow Your Own Tomatillos

Tomatillos are very easy to grow and require moderate watering and average soil. Once established the plants are relatively drought tolerant.

How to Grow

Seeds should be sown outdoors at least two weeks after the last frost. Plants should emerge in about 10 days and it takes about 65 days to mature for harvest.

Harvest when the husks start to open and well before the fruits turn light yellow.

Notes On Growing Tomatillos From Our Resident Gardener, Charles Holtz

I've grown dozens of tomato varieties, and even that over-publicized "Tomato Tree", so thought I'd try one of those husk tomatoes again.  This was not that sweet "ground cherry" this time, but one of the larger "Mexican" tomatillos.  It was soon bearing brown-flecked yellow star flowers which were followed by loads of green "Chinese Lanterns" on 2-foot stems.  This simply is an attention getter.  It bears a heavy crop of the greenish yellow fruit, kept clean inside those papery husks.  The "berries" are used for preserves and sauces and even in fresh salads.  Grow these plants the same as tomatoes.

Both the tomato and tomatillo are new world plants that date back to the Aztecs.


Buy Seeds

You can purchase seeds at your local nursery or online.  Our favorite source for buying seeds is Renee's Garden. She sells several varieties of tomatillo seeds.

Sources And Resources

Purdue University - Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective. 1994. J.E. Hernándo Bermejo and J. León

Diana Kennedy - The Cuisine's of Mexico

Sophie D. Coe - America's First Cuisine

Rick Bayless - Authentic Mexican

Zarela MarinezZarela's Veracruz


Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.