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12 January 2021

The tomatillo, which means “little tomato”, is a bright green, tiny, spherical fruit native to Mexico and grown in the United States, though it is not actually a tomato. Learn more about them.

Tiny, delicious, and unbelievably cute, tomatillos are something of a conundrum on the flavor scale. If you find yourself confused as to how to go about using these little fruits, here is a little guide on their flavor profile and how they can be used in various dishes.

What is a Tomatillo?

When you hear the term ‘tomatillos’, your first thought is likely that they are related to tomatoes. In fact, even the name literally translates as ‘little tomato’ in Spanish.

However, they are not exactly tomatoes nor a variety of them. Tomatillos, also sometimes called husk tomatoes, are bright green, tiny, spherical fruits that are native to Mexico and grown extensively in the United States.

The plant is a member of the nightshade family.

What are Tomatillos Used For?

Tomatillos are as versatile as any fruit or vegetable you can find. They can be eaten raw, cooked, pureed, sautéed, roasted – you name it. Most commonly, you will find them paired with other tangy fruits and vegetables in a delicious salsa verde due to their green color and flavor.

Here, they are often used in their raw form to maximize the crunch factor and the acidic taste. The acidic taste also goes well with the likes of vinaigrettes.

On the other hand, you can add them to sauces and curries by pureeing them and turning them into a thick or thin but extremely smooth and colorful paste.

If you are searching for a more earthy flavor, then you can grill or roast them and have them with a classic barbecue or a steak and potatoes kind of dinner.

These little fruits are filled with flavor so they work great for stews as well. Not to mention, you can just chomp down on one as a tangy snack or maybe line up some slices on some toast with ricotta for a healthy and delicious breakfast.

They are very often used in Mexican cuisine.

A bunch of tomatillos, ready for cooking

Are Tomatillos Spicy?

Compared to tomatoes, tomatillos have a relatively more acidic taste. This makes them a brighter and sharper flavor, having a subtle undertone of sweetness only.

The fruit itself is not very spicy but it is frequently used to make extremely hot sauces and purees.

For example, a green sauce made from fresh tomatillos can be super hot, going up to 110k SV on the Scoville rating scale for peppers. But nothing is quite as delicious as a smoky, spicy salsa verde.

Can you Eat a Raw Tomatillo?

Absolutely. Ripe tomatillos taste tangy and fruity. If you are fan of these flavors, go ahead and have some sliced on its own or add some chopped up pieces to your salad. 

How to Cook a Tomatillo?

The first thing you will want to do is remove the papery husks from the exterior. The presence of husk around the little fruits is what lends them the name ‘husk tomatoes’. You can simply use your hands to remove the husk.

Then you have to wash the fruits and you can use them as you like.

You can eat them raw if you want a more fresh, acidic taste. Cooking them brings out the more savory tones of the fruit. It dilutes out their acidity and creates a very rich and complex flavor profile that is very pleasing to the palate.

To cook them, sauté them lightly to develop flavor and soften them up. Then chop them and cook them in a pan with oil, garlic, onion, and salt. This maximizes the tangy, delicious flavor of the tomatillos.

How to Roast Tomatillos?

One of the best ways to eat tomatillos is by roasting them. When charred and roasted over the fire to perfection, their gorgeous bright flavor becomes even more accentuated thanks to the creamy consistency of the fruit.

To roast them, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Then peel the skin off of the fruits and spread them across a baking sheet.

Season with salt and pepper, drizzle some olive oil, and roast them until they become nice and soft.

Learn how to roast tomatillos here.

A bunch of tomatillos, ready for peeling

Check Out My Tomatillo Recipes

6 comments

  1. 5 stars
    Hey Michael, Happy New Year – i love tomatillos and grew some in the uk to make a sharp, hot and sour salsa the includes those Fatali chillies i also grew – goes so well with barbecued and grilled food and anything tex-mex or mexican of course.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Hey, Gary. Yes! They are great, aren’t they? Perfect for salsas. With fatalii! Nice! Happy New Year.

  2. Great article that answered many questions I had about this ‘mystery’ item often on sale in my local Mexican/Dominican market here in NYC.
    After reading of it as an ingredient in a chili recipe, I included a ~ 3/4 lb for a large batch of ‘traditional’ red chili: chopping finely along with poblanos, onions, scallions, garlic – sauteing quickly at high heat in rendered pork shoulder fat – browning/caramelizing everything. With what passes for ‘chili powder’ here in the NE – and many hours of low simmer – the batch came out fine. I think the ‘tartness’ quality of this fruit adds some ‘zing’ to ‘standard’ red chili, but very interested in trying out your Chili Verde recipe, calling for ‘pre-roasting’ peppers/tomatillos (quick ‘broil’ setting – top rung – should work).

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, BJK! They really are great to cook with. Eye opening for sure. I love them.

  3. Great info. I love tomatillos. I like to chop them up with some white onion, jalapeno and saute them in a pan with a splash of lime juice then crack a couple eggs in scramble and garnish with fresh cilantro and maybe some queso fresco.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Perfect way to enjoy them, Jason! Coming to your house! =)

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