This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.
Have you met… tomatillos?
Suspicious about why some pale green tomatoes are hidden inside a tiny crepe paper lantern? You should be. Tomatoes these are not; they’re tomatillos. Oh, and those green salsas at your local Mexican restaurant? Also tomatillo!
Although the literal translation from Spanish is “little tomato,” and another of its monikers is the Mexican husk tomato, the tomatillo (pronounced toe-muh-tee-oh), is only distant kin to that juicy red summertime favorite. Tomatillos are actually more closely related to the ground cherry, or cape gooseberry. These cousins are all members of the extensive and very ancient botanical family Solanaceae, or nightshades,* to which potato, eggplant, bell pepper and chili peppers also belong.
First cultivated by early mesoamerican civilizations, credit goes to the Aztecs for domestication. The tomatillo continues today to be a staple of Mexican and central American cuisines, and is spreading in popularity — for deliciously good reasons.
What’s so great about them?
Naturally low in calories (about 20 per 1/2-cup serving), tomatillos contain zero cholesterol, and negligible amounts of fat and sodium. This serving provides nearly 10% and 15% of your daily needs for vitamin K and vitamin C, respectively, plus about 5% of the DVs for potassium, manganese, fiber and niacin (B3).
Tomatillos contain the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin — antioxidant carotenoids associated with improved eye health and reduced risk of age-related visual decline, including macular degeneration. Research is studying potentially anti-cancer compounds called anolides found in tomatillos, which may help protect men from the formation of colon cancer cells.
In small amounts (roughly 1% to 3% of your daily needs per serving), tomatillos provide magnesium, phosphorous, iron and the trace mineral copper, plus vitamin A and several of the other B vitamins.
*Concerned about eating nightshade fruit + veg? Let us please debunk the myths.