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Tomatillos | Information | Article

Tomatillo botanical information

Tomatillo (P. philadelphica) grow up to 15 to 60 cm and have few hairs on the stem. Leaves have acute and irregularly separated dents on the side. They are typically about one meter in height, and can either be compact and upright or prostrate with a wider, less dense canopy. Leaves are typically serrated and can either be smooth or pubescent. Tomatillo is also often classified as P. ixocarpa BROT. However, P. philadelphica is the most important species economically. The nomenclature for Physalis changed since the 1950s. P. philadelphica was at one time classified as a variety of P. ixocarpa. Later, the classification of P. ixocarpa was revised under the species of P. philadelphica. Today, the name P. ixocarpa is commonly used for the domestic plant and P. philadelphica for the wild one. Flowers come in several colors including white, light green, bright yellow, and sometimes purple. Flowers may or may not have purple spots toward the center of the corolla. The anthers are typically dark purple to pale blue. Tomatillo plants are highly self-incompatible, and two or more plants are needed for proper pollination. Thus, isolated tomatillo plants rarely set fruit. 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, green, or even purple. The freshness and greenness of the husk are quality criteria. There are several varieties of tomatillos, with differences in tastes, traits, and ripening colors. Some cultivars include Amarylla, Gigante, Green Husk, Mexican, Pineapple, Purple de Milpa, Rio Grande Verde, and Yellow.

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Tomatillo history

The wild tomatillo and related plants are found everywhere in the Americas except in the far north, with the highest diversity in Mexico. In 2017, scientists reported on their discovery and analysis of a fossil tomatillo found in the Patagonian region of Argentina, dated to 52 million years BP. The finding has pushed back the earliest appearance of the Solanaceae plant family of which the tomatillo is one genus. 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. The specific name philadelphica dates from the 18th century.

tomatillo planting growing cultivation

Tomatillo planting and cultivation

Start tomatillo seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your last frost date. Harden off indoor-started plants before transplanting outdoors to the garden. Set out at the same time you plant your tomatoes, when all danger of frost is past and the soil is thoroughly warm.

Tomatillos are much like their nightshade family cousin the tomato, in that the plant sprouts roots along the stems, so it profits from being planted deeply in the garden. The indeterminate, sprawling plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and at least as wide, so space the plants 3 feet apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. Plan to give them support in the form of gardening trellises or tomato cages, unless you want to harvest the ripe fruits off the ground. Two to four plants are sufficient for fresh use.

Tomatillos are hugely prolific and produce nonstop until laid low by frost. Start by applying 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch, such as grass clippings, to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist. Although moderately drought-tolerant, tomatillos do best with an inch or so of water per week. If space is limited, pinch off the growing tips to control spread. Fertilizer is not needed. When frost threatens, pull up your tomatillo plants and hang them upside down in an unheated garage. The tomatillo fruits will keep for at least a couple of months.

tomatillo harvesting

Tomatillo harvesting

Tomatillo plants can reach heights of 1.5 to 2 meters. Due to its rapid and branching growth it is recommended to stake them. Staking also facilitates later harvesting and prevents the fruit from touching the ground, which reduces damage to fruit and husk. Staking can also reduce disease, as well as slug damages. Fertilization is recommended at a moderate level. An application of 40 – 90 kg/ha of phosphorus is common. Depending on soil type and irrigation, other nutrients and fertilizers (N/ K) may be required. For non-commercial production, regular fertilization is recommended. Even though tomatillo plants become more drought-tolerant the older they get, regular watering is required. Tomatillo plants require 25–38 mm of water per week. Water can either come from rainfall or irrigation. Irrigation can either be managed by drip, sprinkler, furrow or watering can. Irrigation frequency is depending on weather and crop’s growth stage from once or twice a week to daily during hot weather periods. Weeds are a serious challenge in tomatillo production and especially important during the first few weeks. Plastic and organic mulches help to effectively control weeds. Applications of plastic mulches also help to restrict soil water evaporation and modifying microclimate, thereby affecting tomatillo growth and yield.

Tomatillos are harvested when the fruits fill the calyx. This state is normally achieved 65 to 100 days after transplanting. Fruit production continues for 1 to 2 months or until first frost. Harvesting occurs regularly, typically every day. Harvesting is done by hand. A single plant produces 60 to 200 fruits within a single growing season, with an average yield of about 9 tons per acre. Tomatillos can be stored up to three weeks in a cold and humid environment.

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Tomatillo production in the United States

Tomatillos are produced in small acreage plots in many parts of the state. Production areas include southern California (San Bernardino County), the central coast (Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo Counties), and the Central Valley (Fresno, San Joaquin, and Tulare Counties). Nearly all fields in the southern parts of the state receive transplants in January or February for harvest from late April through June. In the central coast, planting runs from March to June and harvest runs from July to November. Planting in the Central Valley begins in Fresno County in February (under plastic tunnels) and proceeds northward over the next four months for harvest from late May to November.

Tomatillo nutrition facts

Nutrition information (per 100g)

Calories 32
Carbohydrate 5.8 g
Protein 1 g – 2% RDA
Dietary Fiber 1.9 g – 8% RDA
Omega-3 fatty acids 16 mg
Vitamin A 114 IU – 2% RDA
Vitamin C 11.7 mg – 20% RDA
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol) 0.4 mg – 2% RDA
Vitamin K 10.1 mcg – 13% RDA
Thiamin – 3% RDA
Riboflavin – 2% RDA
Niacin 1.9 mg – 9% RDA
Vitamin B6 0.1 mg – 3% RDA
Folate 7 mcg – 2% RDA
Pantothenic Acid 0.2 mg – 2% RDA
Choline 7.6 mg
Calcium 7 mg – 1% RDA
Iron 0.6 mg – 3% RDA
Magnesium 20 mg – 5% RDA
Phosphorus 39 mg – 4% RDA
Potassium 268 mg – 8% RDA
Sodium 1 mg
Zinc 0.2 mg – 1% RDA
Copper 0.1 mg – 4% RDA
Manganese 0.2 mg – 8% RDA
Selenium 0.5 mcg – 1% RDA

tomatillo health benefits

Health benefits of tomatillos

1. Promote Digestion
Tomatillos possess a notable amount of dietary fiber just like most vegetables, making it beneficial to digestive health. Dietary fiber absorbs water and adds bulk to digested food and stool. As a result, it allows food an easier transit through the digestive tract; thus, helping prevent bloating, constipation, cramping, and excess gas. Likewise, a healthy digestive system and regular bowel movements prevent serious conditions such as colon cancer and gastric ulcers. Moreover, the high fiber content of tomatillos is beneficial to diabetic patients since fiber is vital in regulating the distribution of glucose into the bloodstream. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is crucial for diabetics; otherwise, it could lead to hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia.

2. Can Help Treat Strep Throat
Strep throat, a bacterial infection that causes pain and inflammation in the throat, is a common condition in children and adults alike. This condition is brought on by the Streptococcus bacteria, which can spread easily from one individual to another. Tomatillos have anti-bacterial properties that kill the Streptococcus bacteria, as well as anti-inflammatory properties that relieve the inflammation in the throat.

3. May Help Treat Mumps
Mumps is another contagious disease that is caused by a virus that can easily spread through close personal contact. It is characterized by painful swelling under the neck. Other symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, and headache. Since mumps is a virus, it does not respond to antibiotics, which makes it more difficult to treat. Fortunately, tomatillos can alleviate the inflammation and reduce pain, owing to its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial qualities. Mumps have virtually been eliminated thanks to effective vaccine practices, but resurgence is occurring as a result of the anti-vaxxer movement, making it necessary to be ready in the event there is a major outbreak.

4. Treat Colds and Influenza
Tomatillos contain vitamin C and a list of antioxidants that fortifies your immune system; thus, helping recover faster from fever, colds, or flu and reduce your risk of contracting such ailments in the first place.

5. Help Prevent Cancer
Tomatillos contain a unique group of steroids called withanolides. These types of phytochemicals feature antioxidant properties and suppress oxidative stress brought by free radicals, which are the harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism. Likewise, the vitamin A and vitamin C content of tomatillos complement the anti-cancer effects of these steroids. In addition, withanolides promote faster cell regeneration and possess antibacterial functions.

6. Boost Immune System
The vitamin C content of tomatillos can help fortify your immune system’s response against infections. Vitamin C stimulates the production of white blood cells or leukocytes that engulf bacteria and fungi. It is crucial that you strengthen your primary line of defense against pathogens to avoid contractions of certain contagious or infectious diseases. Likewise, vitamin C is also a notable component of collagen production, which supports the creation of cells and tissues that make up blood vessels and organs.

7. Treats Ringworms
Ringworm is a fungal infection (yes, you read that correctly, it is not a parasitic worm) that appears on the skin. Not only is ringworm disturbing, it could lead to a number of complications if remain untreated. Fortunately, you can create homemade remedies using tomatillos to treat ringworms, thanks to its anti-mycotic properties.

8. Improve Vision
Tomatillos contain vitamin A, an indispensable vitamin in terms of eye health. Similarly, they also contain beta-carotene, which is a derivative of vitamin A. Beta-carotene serves as an antioxidant that prevents macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye disorders, and is in many aspects superior to Vitamin A, as it is a pro vitamin that selectively converts to Vitamin A as the need arises.

9. Treats Asthma
Asthma is a chronic respiratory ailment that tends to worsen whenever you are stressed or when you are exposed to certain irritants. Allergens, or the substances that trigger asthma, vary from person to person and can include pollen, dust, mites, etc. The main cause of asthma is unknown; however, you can minimize asthma episodes through natural remedies such as tomatillo which appears to decrease initiation of episodes or shortens duration of attacks.

10. Help Lose Weight While Providing Energy Reserves
Tomatillos are among the best vegetables when it comes to weight loss, as it is low in calories but high in fiber and nutrients. The vegetable’s high fiber content provides for a satiated feeling and prolonged gastric emptying, which is very helpful when you are prone to snacking or frequent cravings. Moreover, tomatillos contain Niacin, which is a primary element in the enzymatic processes that convert food into usable energy for the body. Therefore, you will not have to feel weak and hungry while following a weight loss program- one of the major causes of diet failure.

11. Lower Blood Pressure and Improve Heart Health
Tomatillos contain potassium, a mineral that serves as a natural vasodilator. Potassium dilates blood vessels and reduces the pressure on the cardiovascular system. As a result, potassium allows for efficient distribution of blood and nutrients all throughout the body. Likewise, tomatillos are rich in dietary fiber that helps regulate LDL or bad cholesterol levels; thus, promoting heart health by reducing atherosclerotic plaque deposits, heart attacks, and strokes.

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Consumption and uses of tomatillos

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, so generally are used in jams and preserves. Like their close relatives, Cape gooseberries, tomatillos have 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. Ripe tomatillos keep refrigerated for about two weeks. They keep even longer with the husks removed and the fruit refrigerated in sealed plastic bags. They may also be frozen whole or sliced.

Tomatillo can be harvested at different stages of its development. For salsa verde, it is harvested early, when the fruit is sour with a light flavor. For a sweeter taste, it can be picked later, when the fruit is seedier. In this stage, it could be suitable as a tomato substitute. Tomatillos have diverse uses in stews, soups, salads, curries, stir-fries, baking, cooking with meats, marmalade, and desserts.

Tomatillos can also be dried to enhance the sweetness of the fruit in a way similar to dried cranberries, with a hint of tomato flavor. Tomatillo flavor is used in fusion cuisines for blending flavors from Latin American dishes with those of European and North America.

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