The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) is an indigenous ingredient used widely in Mexican cuisine. It’s now beginning to appear in the Australian market and its arrival is a welcome sight.
The ingredient is much-loved in other parts of the world, but has remained relatively unknown in Australia until now. Domesticated by the Aztecs in the eighth century, tomatillos are a small green fruit encased in a papery husk.
It looks like a green tomato and is picked when it has grown to the point of filling its casing, with the fruit remaining firm and green. Tomatillos are most notable as the star ingredient in an authentic Mexican salsa verde and provide the green sauce with its classic tart taste.
Tomatillos, also called Mexican husk tomato, are native to Mexico and Central America and remain a staple food for much of the population. A relative of the tomato and cape gooseberry, tomatillos — like tomatoes — are a fruit largely used as a vegetable. It is rich in nutrients and generally available year-round, though at its best in summer and autumn.
Provenance and traceability
Several farmers across Australia are now cultivating commercial quantities of the tomatillo crop. Their commitment to growing tomatillos provides chefs and restaurants with an opportunity to create innovative new dishes using an exotic and lesserknown ingredient.
Tomatillos have a fresh and herbaceous flavour with minor notes of citrus. It is more acidic and much less sweet than ripe or unripe tomatoes, particularly when used raw. The texture of raw tomatillos is denser, crunchier, and less watery than tomatoes.
Preparation and culinary applications
Used both fresh and cooked, tomatillos are a versatile ingredient that add complexity and depth of flavour to a variety of dishes. To prepare, remove the papery husk and rinse as there’s a slightly sticky substance around the base. The most common way to prepare tomatillos is to cover them with cold water and simmer until soft.
You can also grill, steam, or roast until tender and then blend into green sauces and salsas including salsa verde or add to stews, soups, and casseroles. When cooked, the flavour begins to mellow out and the strong tart taste gives way to a slightly softer and sweeter profile.