What are tomatillos good for?

Tomatillo Talk
Botanical name: Physalis philadelphica

Tomatillos Nutrition Facts

Tomatillos, which translate to "little tomatoes" in Spanish, are native to Mexico and were first cultivated by the Aztecs as one of their staple crops.1 Also called husk tomatoes, Mexican green tomatoes and jamberries, tomatillos are small, green fruits covered in sticky residue under their thin, papery outer covering.2

While they're from the tomato family, and in fact do resemble small, green tomatoes, tomatillos are the fruit of an entirely different plant.3,4 Tomatillos have a faintly tart, citrusy flavor. While they’re best picked and used while they’re green, this fruit can also ripen to a yellow, red or even purple color, and grow to about the size of a large walnut or a small lemon.5,6,7

Blended with garlic, onions and herbs like cumin and cilantro, tomatillos lend themselves well to lively Mexican recipes such as salsas, enchiladas, tacos and burritos. They're also excellent in soups, sandwiches and salads. Salsa verde is a well-loved dish that uses tomatillos as the main ingredient.8,9

Health benefits of tomatillos

Containing all the right ingredients for optimal nutrition, tomatillos are a good source of dietary fiber, niacin, potassium and manganese.10,11 They also contain a healthy amount of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Compared to green tomatoes, tomatillos provide a few more calories, fat and protein, but the extra fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins make up for it.12

A medium tomatillo weighing 34 grams contains 11 calories, 3.4 milligrams of vitamin K, 4 milligrams of vitamin C and 91 milligrams of potassium. It also contains the beta-carotenes zeaxanthin and lutein, which impart potent antioxidant properties that work with vitamin A13 to help protect vision and reduce the risk for macular degeneration.14 Its vitamin A content may also help maintain healthy mucus membranes and skin,15 while its flavonoids may help inhibit lung and mouth cancers.16

A recently discovered set of naturally occurring phytochemicals called withanolides, such as Ixocarpalactone-A, is one of the compounds in tomatillos found to be not only antibacterial, but also antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic against cancer cells.17 Withanolides may also help lower the risk for melanomas, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, cancer of the esophagus and pancreas, and even brain tumors and leukemia.18

However, it's advisable to consume tomatillos in moderation, as they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts. For more information about their nutritional content, check out the nutrition facts table below:19

Tomatillo nutrition facts

Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 32  
Total Fat 1.02 g 2%
Saturated Fat 0.139 g 1%
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 1 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 5.84 g 0%
Dietary Fiber 1.9 g 8%
Sugar 3.93 g  
Protein 0.96 g  
Vitamin A 6 mcg Vitamin C 11.7 mg
Calcium 7 mg Iron 0.62 mg

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie

Studies on tomatillos

Modern science is looking more closely than ever at the tomatillo because of its ability to help fight inflammation20 and reduce the risk for cancer development and growth.21  The wild tomatillo has recently been found to help fight against cancer. The discovery began when three members of a Kansas University team traveled to South America on a "bioprospecting" excursion and found a native plant with anticancer potential.

However, when funds and distance prevented a return trip and further research on this plant, the team turned their attention to Midwestern plants and found something better: the wild tomatillo. Researchers at the University of Kansas discovered 14 compounds known as withanolides in wild tomatillo. These withanolides show significant anticancer properties without any noticeable side effects or toxicity in preclinical testing.22

Another research published in The FEBS Journal also supports potent ability of withanolides in tomatillos to help lessen the risk for cancer growth and neutralize cancer cells, particularly in the colon. The evidence presented suggests that tomatillos may have chemopreventive or therapeutic value in the management of colon cancer.23

Tomatillos healthy recipes:
Avocado and tomatillo salad

Tomatillos Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

2 ripe avocados, cubed

3 tomatillos

1 large tomato

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/2 jalapeño, seeds removed

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

Juice from 1/2 of a lime

Salt and pepper

Procedures:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.
  2. Add in the lime juice and season to taste.

This recipe makes four servings.

(Recipe adapted from Suite One Studio24)

Tomatillos fun facts

Tomatillos can easily be grown in containers. You need an extra-large pot or wooden box with drain holes at the bottom. The bigger the pot, the better, as you can add additional high-quality potting soil for better moisture retention.

You’ll want to plant your tomatillos in a large area, as they are big, sprawling plants. Tomatillos can grow between 4 and 5 feet high, so make sure there's room in your pot for stakes. You can also corral them if you don’t want them sprawling across your garden.

Tomatillo plants should get at least six hours of direct sunlight a day and be sure to water them regularly but lightly, keeping the soil damp but not wet. Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes when growing tomatillos. Pick the tomatillos when the husk is stretched over the fruit — they should feel firm but not hard.25,26

Summary

Tomatillos are little husk-covered fruits that resemble green tomatoes. They have a tart, citrusy flavor that goes well with onions, garlic and other herbs. They’re a staple ingredient in Mexican cooking and are often used for making the well-known dish, salsa verde.27,28

Tomatillos contain a combination of nutrients, such as potassium, vitamins A, C and K, niacin, manganese, beta-carotenes and magnesium, to name a few.29 But perhaps the most important compound in this small, Mexican fruit are the withanolides, which may have potent anticancer properties according to studies.30,31