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Fresh harvest of tomatillos
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Physalis
Species: P. philadelphica
Binomial name
Physalis philadelphica
Lam. (1786)

Physalis ixocarpa Brot.

Physalis ixocarpa - MHNT

The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), also known as the Mexican husk tomato, is a plant of the nightshade family bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name.

Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era.[1] A staple of Mexican cuisine, they are eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, particularly salsa verde.


Tomatillos were domesticated in Mexico before the coming of Europeans, and played an important part in the culture of the Maya and the Aztecs, more important than the tomato.[2] The specific name philadelphica dates from the 18th century.[2]


In Mexico, the plant is grown mostly in the states of Hidalgo and Morelos; it is also grown in the highlands of Guatemala. The plant has been exported around the world. In the 1950s it was exported to India, where it was cultivated in Rajasthan; it is grown and processed also in Queensland (Australia), Pietersburg (South Africa), and Kenya. In the United States, tomatillos are grown in California and Iowa, where scientists from Iowa State University promoted a strain of tomatillos for Midwestern farmers they dubbed "jamberry".[2] In 1952, another strain was introduced in Ohio, under the name "jumbo husk tomato".[3]


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. The freshness and greenness of the husk are quality criteria.

Tomatillos are a key ingredient in fresh and cooked Mexican and Central-American green sauces. 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 generally used in 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.[4] 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 and refrigerated.[5] They may also be frozen whole or sliced.



The tomatillo (from Nahuatl, tomatl[2]) is also known as husk tomato,[6] Mexican husk tomato, or ground cherry. These names, however, can also refer to other species in the Physalis genus.[2] Other names are Mexican green tomato and miltomate. 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). Tomatillos are sometimes called "green tomatoes"; unripe tomatoes may go by the same name, though the fruit is in a different genus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Plata, Edith Metcalfe de (1984). Mexican Vegetarian Cooking. Inner Traditions/Bear. p. 17. ISBN 9780892813414. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Small, Ernest (2011). Top 100 Exotic Food Plants. CRC Press. pp. 117–20. ISBN 9781439856888. 
  3. ^ Morton, Julia F. (1987). "Mexican Husk Tomato". Fruits of Warm Climates. Winterville: Creative Resource Systems. pp. 434–37. ISBN 0-9610184-1-0. 
  4. ^ Vernonica E. Franklin-Tong, ed. (2008). Self-Incompatibility in Flowering Plants: Evolution, Diversity and Mechanisms. Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-68485-5. 
  5. ^ Carter, Noelle; Deane, Donna (14 May 2008). "Tomatillo: a green sourpuss with a sweet side". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 August 2009. 
  6. ^ Valladolid, Marcela (2010). Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor. Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. p. 249. ISBN 9780307885531. 

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