Tomatillos are similar to tomatoes but with a firmer texture, more acidic flavor, and of course they grow within a delicate papery husk. Mostly green but sometimes purple, tomatillos are a bright and flavorful staple in many households throughout the Americas.
Flavor profile: Tomatillos are a pretty acidic fruit, similar to a tomato but much more firm and acidic. However, some varieties such as tomatillos milperos, which are smaller and tend to have a purple blush, can have a sweeter flavor that brings an extra special richness to dishes.
Uses: Tomatillos are known for their acidity, which makes them perfect for salsas to serve with tacos, chips, or to stew chicken or other meats in. Acids are often used to marinate meats and softening them up into fall-apart-amazingness. To see an example of a recipe that does just that, check out this recipe, Carne y Costillitas de Puerco en Salsa Verde con Nopales.
Pairs with: Onion, cilantro, peppers, garlic, pork, chicken, and more
Storage: Post harvest, tomatillos can store easily for a couple of weeks. They are best stored within their paper husks, either in or out of the fridge in a cool place, which keeps them from sticking to each other and going bad.
Other names: The original Nahuatl word “tomatl” roughly meant “swollen fruit.” Nahuatl is one of many indigenous languages still alive in the Americas, one that many Oregon farmworkers grew up hearing at home. Tomatillos are also known as tomate verde, jitomate, or Mexican husk tomato.
Nutrients: Similar to tomatoes, tomatillos are a good source of vitamin C. They also contain decent amounts of vitamin A and K, niacin, potassium, magnesium, and manganese, as well as many flavonoids.
History: Just like tomatoes, tomatillos are native to Mexico and have been an essential ingredient in cooking throughout the Americas for thousands of years. In 2017 a tomatillo was found in Patagonia was 52 million years old. Tomatoes and tomatillos were developed by the Aztecs in Mexico and were often grown with spicy chilis to keep pests down. The peppers would grow tall while the tomatillos vines along the ground, keeping the weeds down.
Why it's a great crop: Tomatillos, compared to tomatoes, are a much easier crop to grow and harvest. On many small organic farms, tomatoes must be pruned and trellised repeatedly throughout the year, whereas tomatillos can be left rather alone to do their thing. Harvest is easier since you don’t have to worry about damaging their stiffer fruits, and their shelf life is longer, which usually means that farms experience less loss from rot. One big challenge of tomatillos, however, is harvest! Those low early fruits especially dangle so low, it’s like looking for a lost sock under your bed, quite the back-breaking harvest position.
Special Note: Look for tomatillo’s fruity cousin, the Ground Cherry! Ground cherries look like tiny tomatillos that are orange and very sweet when ripe.