Tomatillos are an important component of Mexican cuisine — and for good reason! Find out exactly what they are, how to use them, plus some ideas for delicious plant-based recipes.
Table of Contents
📖 What are tomatillos?
If not, here is the low-down.
Tomatillos are a small green fruit (yes, a fruit) that belongs to the nightshade family. They grow to about 2-3 inches in diameter and come with a thin, papery husk wrapped around them.
Tomatillos are native to Central America, growing best in warm climates. In fact, there's evidence of tomatillos being cultivated by the Aztecs as far back as 800 BC.
The most common variety of tomatillo grown and sold is called Toma Verde, but there are other varieties too — some purple in color!
🍅 Tomatillos vs tomatoes
Also part of the nightshade family, tomatoes thrive in similar growing conditions. But, they are members of a different species than tomatillos.
Tomatillos are sometimes referred to as "Mexican husk tomatoes" or "Mexican green tomatoes." This can make matters a little confusing since the term green tomatoes can simply refer to unripe red tomatoes.
In any case, you'll definitely be able to tell the difference when you take your first bite of a tomatillo!
🍴 Flavor profile
Tomatillos are well-known for their tart, tangy, and juicy flavors. When raw, they're especially acidic. However, once they're cooked down the flavors mellow out quite a bit.
A common technique for preparing tomatillos is to roast them, bringing out slightly sweeter notes and a distinct smokiness.
🍎 Health facts
Tomatillos are an incredibly nutritious fruit, offering a whole host of health benefits.
A single tomatillo contains only 11 calories, but almost 1 gram of fiber. In case you don't know, fiber is an extremely important nutrient to keep your digestive system in good working order.
Tomatillos are also filled with vitamins A, C, and potassium. Potassium intake is essential for a healthy heart and blood pressure regulation.
🔪 How to use them
To prepare tomatillos, remove the husks with your hands and discard them. You'll notice a sticky film on the outside of the tomatillos, which easily rinses off under running water. Once rinsed, they are good to go!
Tomatillos are widely used for making salsa verde in Mexican cooking, but they can be used in more unique ways such as:
- Blended. Use them as a sauce on tacos, chilaquiles, enchiladas, or arroz verde.
- Roasted Roast and serve them as a side dish along with your favorite vegan protein.
- Fresh. Although you'll mostly find them cooked, tomatillos are delicious served in their raw form, adding a tangy and acidic kick.
- Fried. Try frying your tomatillos with a little salt (just like you would fried tomatoes).
- Jam. Tomatillos make an excellent base for jams and preserves.
📋 Recipes with tomatillos
Tomatillos can be utilized in a wide variety of dishes, but some of our favorite plant-based recipes include:
Tomatillos store extremely well at room temperature, in the fridge, or in the freezer.
At room temperature, tomatillos will last for about 2-3 days on your countertop.
In the fridge, tomatillos can be stored for up to 2 to 3 weeks. It's best to keep them in a paper bag to reduce moisture levels. We also recommend storing them with the husks on for additional protection.
To freeze your tomatillos, peel off the husks, rinse, and dry them. Next, place them on a baking tray and pop them in the freezer. Once they are fully frozen, transfer them into a freezer-safe bag or container to prevent freezer burn.
Note: Although not necessary, leaving the husks on tomatillos will increase their longevity and freshness.
💰 Buying guide
If you're interested in trying out the tart and acidic flavors of tomatillos, you want to make sure they are fresh! Follow these steps to choose the best-looking fruits.
What to look for
When picking out tomatillos, look for ones that have dry and papery husks. Avoid any that are damp, moist, or shriveled up.
The husk should be tightly wrapped around the fruit, indicating it was picked at an optimal time.
Ensure the tomatillo itself is firm without much give. Avoid ones with dark spots, bruises, or softness.
Where to buy
You'll most likely be able to find tomatillos in the produce section at larger chain grocery stores. If you're lucky enough to live near a Latin or Mexican food market, they'll surely be stocked there.
If you think you have a green thumb, try buying tomatillo seeds to grow them yourself!
♻️ Tomatillo Substitutions
Tomatillos provide a very unique flavor profile to recipes they're used in. If you don't have access to any, here are two alternatives to try:
- Green tomatoes: Underripe tomatoes with a squeeze of lime juice will loosely emulate the flavor of tomatillos in soups and salsas.
- Gooseberries & green peppers: If you can't find green tomatoes, try mixing gooseberries and green peppers together. You'll end up with similar tart, tangy, acidic, and fresh flavors.
"Tomatillo" is a Spanish word that translates to "little tomato" in English.
The sticky part found on tomatillos (withanolides) are a defense mechanism to ward of harmful insects. To get rid of the stickiness, remove the husks and rinse them in water.
All members of the nightshade family contain a poisonous compound, called solanine. It can be found in the leaves, fruit, and roots of these foods.
As for tomatillos, as long as they're ripe, the husk is removed, and the sticky film is washed off, they're completely safe to eat.