The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) is a plant of the nightshade family, related to the cape gooseberry, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. Tomatillos originated in Mexico, and are a staple of that country's cuisine. Tomatillos are grown as annuals throughout the Western Hemisphere. Tomatillos are frequently eaten fried, boiled or steamed. The leaves are also used to treat urinary tract infection.
The tomatillo fruit is surrounded by an inedible, paper-like husk formed from the calyx. As the fruit matures, it fills the husk and can split it open by harvest. The husk turns brown, and the fruit can be several colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple. Tomatillos are the key ingredient in fresh and cooked Mexican and Central-American green sauces. The freshness and greenness of the husk are quality criteria. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green color and tart flavor are the main culinary contributions of the fruit. Purple and red-ripening cultivars often have a slight sweetness, unlike the green- and yellow-ripening cultivars, and are therefore somewhat more suitable for fruit-like uses like jams and preserves. Like their close relatives cape gooseberries, tomatillos have a high pectin content. Another characteristic is they tend to have a varying degree of a sappy sticky coating, mostly when used on the green side out of the husk.
Tomatillo plants are highly self-incompatible, and two or more plants are needed for proper pollination. Thus, isolated tomatillo plants rarely set fruit. Research conducted by Kamla Kant Pandey in 1957 supports this fact. Ripe tomatillos will keep refrigerated for about two weeks. They will keep even longer if the husks are removed and the fruits are placed in sealed plastic bags stored in the refrigerator. They may also be frozen whole or sliced.
The tomatillo is also known as the husk tomato, jamberry, husk cherry, or Mexican tomato, but the latter is more appropriately used to describe a relative which bears smaller fruit. These names can also refer to other species in the Physalis genus. In Spanish, it is called tomate de cáscara, tomate de fresadilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde (green tomato), tomatillo (Mexico; this term means "little tomato" elsewhere), miltomate (Mexico, Guatemala), or simply tomate (in which case the tomato is called jitomate). Even though tomatillos are sometimes called "green tomatoes", they should not be confused with green, unripe tomatoes (tomatoes are in the same family, but a different genus).
The original name for tomatillo is "tomate" (in nahuatl: tomātl, than means 'fat water' or 'fat thing'). When Aztecs started to cultivate a similar fruit, but bigger and red, they called the new specie "jitomate" ('fat water with navel' or 'fat thing with navel'). After their conquest of Tenochtitlan, Spaniards exported tomatoes (jitomates) to the rest of the world with the name of "tomate", so internationally the world uses the word "tomato" ("tomate") to refer to the red tomato instead of the green one. Only in the center of Mexico do people still use the word "tomate" to refer to a tomatillo.
- Tomatillo at Aggie Horticulture archive
- Vernonica E. Franklin-Tong, ed. (2008). Self-Incompatibility in Flowering Plants: Evolution, Diversity and Mechanisms. Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-68485-5.
- Carter, Noelle; Deane, Donna (2008-05-14). "Tomatillo: a green sourpuss with a sweet side". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times). Retrieved 2009-08-03.