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Tomatillo nutrition facts

Tomatillo, also known as tomate, is a small spherical shaped berry in the tomato family of fruits. Tomate, chiefly employed as a vegetable, was originated in Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs centuries before the Spanish explorers introduced it elsewhere.

Binomially, the fruit is the member of Solanaceae or nightshade family of fruits and vegetables, which also includes tomato, ground-cherry, potato, eggplant, chili peppers etc. Its exquisite tart and sweet flavors make it one of the much sought-after ingredients in Central American sauce preparations.

Some of the common names include tomate verde, miltomate, husk tomatoPhysalis philadelphica (Physalis ixocarpa).

tomatillo plant
Tomatillo plant (Physalis philadelphica).
Photo courtesy: ilovebutter.

Tomatillo is a small annual glabrous shrub featuring similar growth characteristics as that of tomatoes. It grows to about 30-60 cm in height and bears beautiful yellow color flowers which appear about 60 days after seedling. However, unlike in tomatoes, tomatillo berry develops inside thin, semi-transparent calyx or husk resembling somewhat like that of a Taiwanese lantern. Later as the fruit matures, its calyx splits apart to expose a green berry from inside. The fruit measures about 2.5-4 cm in diameter, and weigh about 30-50 g. From inside, its juicy pulp features tiny seeds just as in the tomatoes.

Health benefits of Tomatillos

  • Tomatillos are low in calories. 100 g of berries provide just 32 calories. For comparison, they hold slightly higher calories, fat, and protein than tomatoes. (100 g tomato just has 18 calories). However, they have good amounts of health benefiting plant nutrients such as dietary fiber, minerals, anti-oxidants and vitamins.

  • Unlike tomato, tomatillo does not carry lycopene. On the other hand, it is good in different kind of antioxidant phyto-chemicals known as withanolides. Ixocarpalactone-A is one such withanolides present in tomatillo which has been found to have anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties.

  • Tomatillo contains small amounts of anti-oxidant vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Further; the berry consists of flavonoid anti-oxidants such as ß-carotene, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds possess antioxidant properties and, together with vitamin A, are essential for visual health. In addition, Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids help protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.

  • Fresh tomate is one of the vegetables that has the least sodium to potassium ratio (0:6). Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

  • Further, the fruit has more minerals weight per weight basis than that in the tomatoes. They are also good source of copper, iron, phosphorous, manganese, and other minerals.

Selection and storage

Central and Yucatán peninsula in Mexico and Guatemala are the main husk-tomato growing-regions in the Mesoamerica. It is grown in small parts of California, Louisiana and other Southern states in the USA. Fresh fruits are generally imported from the Central American countries.

fresh tomatillos
Fresh tomatillos.
Photo courtesy: La Grande Farmer's market.

Fresh tomatillos can be available around the year in the market, especially in the stores selling Latin American vegetables. While buying, look for fresh, firm, unripe berries featuring bright green color since they have superior tart flavor and, for the same reason, preferred in the recipes. Avoid sticky and yellow, or purple ones, as they appear over-mature, soft, and out of flavor.

To store, place them inside the vegetable compartment set at right temperature and humidity where they stay fresh for up to two weeks. To preserve longer, remove the husk and store the green fruits inside the refrigerator placed in a zip pouch.

Preparation and serving methods

tomatillo salsa and sauces
Tomatillo salsa and sauces.
Photo courtesy: Adam_d

To prepare, peel the husk by hand and wash them thoroughly in cold water to remove sticky residue from the surface. Fresh tomatillos can be used raw, and cooked in recipes.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Tomatillos are the main ingredients used in variety of Mexican mole (sauce) preparations.

  • The berries are commonly used in Enchilada verde (green) sauce.

  • To prepare salsa verde, cooked and pureed green tomato, blended with roasted jalapeno, onions, garlic, herbs like cilantro and served over tortilla, seafood, fritters, etc.

  • Guacamole is a popular avocado based Mexican spread prepared with chopped tomate, peppers, onion, lime juice, and served over tortilla chips.

Safety profile

As a member of nightshade family plants, tomatillos, may often cause allergic-reactions in some sensitized persons with symptoms of skin and eye itching, runny nose, gastrointestinal disturbances like pain abdomen, vomiting and diarrhea. Cross-reactions with other members like eggplant, tomato, etc., may also occur. It is, therefore, advised to avoid them in food in cases of known allergic conditions. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further resources:

1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

3. University of Kentucky- Cooperative Extension Services-PDF.

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