Vegetables 101: What Is a Tomatillo? What Are Tomatillos?

Vegetables 101: What Is a Tomatillo?
graphic button small size size 10 So many vegetables, so many that are unfamiliar! This is the latest in an occasional series of posts, quick, easy and practical information about out-of-the-ordinary vegetables. Recipe suggestions included! Today's subject? One of my very favorite summer vegetables, the tomatillo! If you've never seen a tomatillo growing on the plant, you're in for a treat, they are so pretty!

WHAT ARE TOMATILLOS? A tomatillo may well look like a "green tomato" (that is, an immature, unripe tomato) and is some times even called a green tomato. But a tomatillo is not a tomato at all, despite its outer appearance! First, a tomatillo is smaller than a tomato, ranging from the size of a golf ball to a baseball. Second, a tomatillo stays green, where an immature green tomato will eventually ripen and turn red.

HOW TO PRONOUNCE TOMATILLO? The word is pronounced [toe-muh-TEE-yo]. The plural of tomatillo is tomatillos [toe-muh-TEE-yoz].

OTHER NAMES FOR TOMATILLOS A tomatillo is also called a husk tomato, jamberry, husk cherry, or Mexican tomato.

TOMATILLOS & MEXICAN CUISINE Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cuisine, especially in green sauces. If you've eaten "salsa verde" on enchiladas then chances are, you've eaten tomatillos; if you've tucked into a "green chili burger" with gusto then chances are, you've eaten tomatillos. With so many Mexican-Americans in the U.S., I suspect that most supermarkets carry tomatillos but if no luck, find a Mexican grocery, you'll be sure to find tomatillos.

ARE TOMATILLOS EASY TO GROW? Tomatillos are easy to grow in home gardens and hang like mysterious green lanterns from the plant's stems. On the plant, a tomatillo is encased in an inedible, glossy paper-like husk; as the tomatillo matures inside, it will first fill and then eventually break out of the husk – like a baby chick out of an egg! As soon as the tomatillo begins to crack open the husk, it's ready to harvest!

THE TOMATILLO SEASON For the record, we grow tomatillos in Eastern Missouri, that's Zone 6 and suffers is known for hot, humid summers. We harvest tomatillos from our backyard garden beginning in July all the way through frost, they are one of the great joys of a garden! Those with warmer climates begin harvesting earlier, those with cooler climates later.

STORING & CLEANING TOMATILLOS We leave the husks on the tomatillos until we're ready to eat them. No special care is required, tomatillos keep on the counter for a few days or in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. First remove the husk, it's inedible. The tomatillo inside is quite sticky, wash it as soon as the husk has been removed, then wash your hands too because that sticky residue makes your fingers dry up like prunes! Once the husk is removed, the entire tomatillo is edible, including the skins and the tiny seeds inside. Grocery stores often remove the husks and wash the tomatillos, saving a couple of steps!

WHAT DO TOMATILLOS TASTE LIKE? We like tomatillos both raw and cooked. A raw tomatillo has a wet but not juicy texture, softer than an apple, firmer than a tomato. The taste can be slightly sweet – which is fascinating because cooked tomatillos add a lovely "sourness" to a dish. Some people say the taste of a tomatillo hints of lemon or pineapple.

TOMATILLOS & YOU I've listed some favorite recipes for tomatillos below but am really curious, what do you most like to do with tomatillos? What do you think about it? Is it easy to find? Do you grow it? Share your story! Bloggers, feel free to share links to your own tomatillo recipes.

A Veggie Venture is home of 'veggie evangelist' and tomatillo lover Alanna Kellogg and the
famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.
© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2014
Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. AnonymousJuly 08, 2014

    I love tomatillos! But I haven't tried many recipes using them, other than salsa verde. I did make a shrimp and tomatillo dish that was good, though.

  2. CabledSheep ~ I was kinda stuck on Salsa Verde too. But I’ve got a very cool tomatillo salad recipe coming shortly and an egg dish set aside to make some time this week ... as soon as the tomatillos really kick in, that is! PS If you’ve got notes/a link for the shrimp and tomatillo, I like the sounds of that, for sure!

  3. AnonymousJuly 08, 2014

    I love braising bone-in skinless chicken thighs in a sauce of tomatillos simmered with onions, garlic, a jalapeno & cilantro. Serve over polenta & top with a little melty cheese. Yum on a cold fall evening!

  4. Anonymous ~ Hum! Adding it to my recipe list for the fall! Thanks for the side-dish suggestion too, sounds like a winner!

  5. I grow them here in NJ. They reseed every year. Chopped with a squeeze of lime with some jicama tastes like green apples.

  6. Hey Alana!

    I liked this post, good info for my readers and have linked back to my post, Chili Flautas with Salsa Verde. Thanks a lot!

  7. I've found that tomatillos make almost all Mexican dishes taste better. Green salsas are obvious, and were the gateway to begin using them quite a few years ago. But I figured that the "off menu" hot (red) salsas in Mexican restaurants included tomatillos, so began making sauces with them and a variety of roasted dried chilis as the base. This combination -- tomatillos and roasted dried chilis -- is the key to awesome, can't-stop-eating-it, chili. I've also had a lot of success with chile verde (pork butt, jalapeno, tomatillo based stew).

  8. BFish ~ Great insight, thanks! Believe it or not, it’s just in the last few weeks that I’ve been experimenting with green salsas, so far, one cooked and one raw, both WONDERFUL and easy to work into our meals with little plan or effort. BUT .... I’m intrigued by the mix of what I assume are fresh tomatillos and dried chiles. If you have anything more specific to recommend, I’d sure love to know, otherwise, I’ll just venture out. I so appreciate your taking the time to chime in ...


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna