Meet Tomato's South-of-the-Border Cousin: The Tomatillo

Wrapped within a green paper-like husk, the tomatillo is Mexico's answer to the traditional red tomato.

Wrapped within a green paper-like husk, the tomatillo is Mexico’s answer to the traditional red tomato.

While they may appear small and sweet, these little guys pack a tangy punch that will have your tastebuds begging for more.

The History

Cultivated since pre-Columbian times, the tomatillo was valued by the Mayans and Aztecs perhaps even more than regular tomatoes, and today they remain a staple in most Latino kitchens, supermarkets, and eateries.

With global appeal it’s no surprise that tomatillos have been exported beyond their Latin roots, and are now cultivated in parts of North America, India, as well as Africa and Australia.


Going global - Physalis peruviana of South Africa. A distant cousin of the tomatillo. Photo: SuperFantastic / Flickr

The Science

Tomatillos go by many names: ground or husk cherry, husk tomato, and jamberry (a personal favorite).

On the outside, they appear as a golf-ball sized fruit hidden within a papery, straw-colored husk. The fruit itself contains a sticky outer coating meant for keeping insects at bay as they grow.

As nutrition goes, tomatillos are high and low in all the right places—lower in sodium, calories (100g=32cal), and fat, while higher in protein, minerals, and antioxidant vitamins.


Eat me and get high… on protein and antioxidants! Photo: Hans Peter Meyer / Flickr

Unhusked tomatillos can last for several months if stored correctly (a cool, dry location works best) and are commonly used in several medicinal recipes. They are also high in pectin, which acts as a thickener for sauces, are great for salsas and mole.

How to Eat It

While we often think of tomatillo as a primary ingredient in sauces and salsas, they are actually quite versatile, and can be left raw or cooked in all sorts of ways. Simply remove their protective husk before preparing (the fruit itself need not be peeled, just washed), and go to town.

Need more ideas? Dice and sugar them for a tart and tangy treat. Boil and blend with garlic, onion, and seasonings for a spicy fire roast, or sauté them with chicken for a smoky and savory meal.


Sweet and hot mango salsa - with tomatillos. Photo: Maggie / Flickr

Be adventurous with tomatillos, as their fruit can play a delicious role in jams, soups, salads, sandwiches, beverages, and more.