duggan tomatillo
\Toe-muh-'tee-oh\ n. :

So what's a tomatillo, you ask? Well, I can tell you a little about tomatillos, but you're going to have to taste them yourself to truly appreciate them.

I looked up tomatillo in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. One entry included:

"... is distinguished by having an angled camanulate corolla and an inflated and sometimes brightly colored calyx enclosing a fruit which is a greenish or yellow two-celled globular berry."

Translating that into English, you end up with:

"Tomatillos have bell-shaped flowers and husk-covered fruit."

And I could have told you that much without a dictionary in the first place.

Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes (both are part of the Nightshade family). They are always green and have a somewhat more tart taste than tomatos. They are covered with a thin, papery husk that can be removed easily. The inside of the tomatillo is white and more solid than a tomato. Tomatillos are of Mexican origin but now are grown in many other places.

This is what tomatillos look like both with and without the husk:


(The tomatillos are the round things in the foreground.)

The tomatillo plant itself is also somewhat similar to a tomato plant. My (unscientific) description of the difference would be that tomatillos are more of a bush while tomatoes are more of a vine. However, both plants are green, have leaves, and grow in the dirt, so the similarities far outweigh the differences.

Growing Tomatillos

Growing tomatillos is easy (well, here in Texas anyway). They have the same requirements as tomatoes: lots of sun, good soil, plenty of water, and a long, warm time to grow. Frost is generally really, really bad, so make sure to plant after the last frost. I start tomatillos indoors and transplant the seedlings about six weeks later. The plants grow to be about four feet tall and are fairly sturdy. I sometimes grow them in cages but it isn't always necessary. I would guess that if you can grow tomatoes where you live, you could grow tomatillos.

Canning Tomatillos

Home canning of tomatillos is pretty easy. First, husk and wash the tomatillos. Then gently cook them in boiling water until tender (about 10 minutes), drain and pack into hot sterile jars. Fill the jars with the hot cooking water to within 1/2 inch of the rim. Add 1 tsp salt and 2 tbsp lemon juice or 1/2 tsp citric acid (per quart) to each jar. Seal the jars and place in boiling water for at least 30 minutes.

Cooking Tomatillos

When buying fresh tomatillos, the husk should be light brown and papery but not dried out. The fruit itself should be firm (firmer than a tomato) and blemish free. The better the condition of the husk, the better the tomatillo. Tomatillos are also available canned, but like everything else, fresh is better than canned.

Preparing tomatillos to use is easy. First, remove the husks unless you like eating cardboard. Next, wash the tomatillos thoroughly. Tomatillos are covered with a sticky film (to hold the husk on, I guess) that has always struck me as something that I shouldn't ingest.

Here is one of my favorite tomatillo recipes:

Salsa Verde
(Tomatillo Green Sauce)


  • 1 lb. tomatillos
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 can green chiles
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper or hot sauce
  1. Remove tomatillo husks and quarter
  2. Chop onion and crush garlic
  3. Sauté onion and garlic in oil
  4. Puree tomatillos, onion, garlic, chiles and cilantro in blender
  5. Simmer mixture for 1 hour
  6. Puree mixture again
  7. Simmer mixture for another hour
  8. Add salt/black pepper/cayenne pepper/hot sauce to taste

Serve hot.