How many people looked at the title of this article and thought I had misspelled ‘tomato’? As it turns out, I would have thought the same thing until just about a year ago when my wife brought home a sack full of nice, ripe tomatillos, fit for our use. I had zero concept of what these quirky little…vegetables? Sure, what these quirky little vegetables were actually meant to be used for, just assuming they looked like they must be a mutation of an apple with a brussel sprout. As I’ve come to discover, they are integral for some of the best soups, rice dishes, and tortillas you can imagine. So let’s take a closer look on this article spotlighting the tomatillo. Vámonos!
Tomatillo Culture and History
I think this is the first time I get to finally bring up the Aztecs in one of these articles, but at least I have an excuse as it is the Aztec people who are credited with the domestication of the tomatillo. It’s is very similar to the tomato, and it seems that both get their name from the Aztec word “tomatl” as it means roughly “round and plump.” We also know that the fruits (o, they’re fruits, nor vegetables) can be dated all the way back to 800 BC. So, you know, they’re a few years old at least.
Because of both tomatoes and tomatillos coming from the single word of tomatl, there’s a ton of confusion, specifically for all the European settlers trying to document the foods of the Americas. They kept confusing the names of the two as the tomato’s full Aztec name is xitomatl and the tomatillo’s full Aztec name is miltomatl, both just shorting to tomatl. Even today we can’t figure out which fruit they were writing about half the time unless the color was mentioned, and even then we have problems thanks to green tomatoes. Oh, and as if that weren’t bad enough, people in Mexico are still mixing the two up in conversation as a tomatillo is called a tomate and a tomato being called a jitomate, though the tomatillo is also called the husk tomato, the jamberry, the husk cherry, the ground cherry, or the Mexican tomato. Bah!
All of these misunderstandings the tomatillo never caught on in Europe in any significant way, whereas the tomato made a killing in Italy and the Mediterranean. Despite that, they’re hugely popular in Mexico and still get used quite a bit in the US. Now imagine how popular they may have been with a slightly different name? History may be entirely different! Well…maybe not that much, but it’s possible!
Health Benefits of Tomatillos
So let’s see, tomatillos are rather low in calories and fat, though not as low as tomatoes. However, they do have more protein than tomatoes, so take that! They are excellent sources of dietary fiber, as you’d assume as they’re a food that’s not processed, and they even have the usual antioxidants you expect at this point. Seriously, which fruits and vegetables don’t have antioxidants? I can’t remember one that I’ve looked into that wasn’t a grenade of antioxidants waiting to go off in your stomach.
Now let’s talk vitamins, right? Tomatillos have a modest amount of vitamins A, C, and E, though they do have some flavinoids like beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. We all know what those three things are, right? Oh good, so I don’t have to explain them. And just to cap it all off, they’re a good source of potassium, copper, iron, phosphorous, and manganese, so yay for vitamins and minerals!
As with absolutely everything, tomatillos have the ability to reduce the risk of cancer, though I’m still baffled as to how everything can reduce the risk of cancer yet we still have cancer. Oh well, I suppose helping to reduce the risk of lung cancers and oral cancers is a good enough reason to like tomatillos, though I do actually have very good reasons, which we’ll get into right…
Eating More Tomatillos
Now! Tomatillos are essential to verde salsa, which is one of my all-time favorite…what would you call it, a dip? A sauce? I mean sure, salsa, yes, but specifically is that a condiment? Okay, I’m sticking with condiment. Tomatillos can be made into my all-time favorite condiment, making otherwise simple dishes like a rice and tortilla bean wrap get a severe flavor jolt.
Beyond just the salsa for chips and my tortillas, it can be added to salads to create flavor without having to add a bunch of fat and needless calories to the meal. They can also help make a mean chili or a delicious guacamole. Or you can just add them to soups, stews, and sauces of all kinds. They’re versatile in their flavorings, but people rarely seem to eat them by themselves.
While I may love verde salsa, I’m sure there’s some other opinions out there buzzing about. What do you all enjoy about tomatillos? Or do you? Leave a comment and let me know! Also, if anyone can give me some great recipe ideas I’d greatly appreciate it! What more can I mean with these tomatoes-er-tomatillos?