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Tomatillos – All You Need to Know | Instacart’s Guide to Groceries

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Last Updated: May 10, 2022

You may have come across tomatillos in the produce section of your local grocery store. Tomatillos look like small, green tomatoes cased in a husk, or outer layer. There are a number of recipes that utilize tomatillos to add a distinct flavor to their dishes, including the tomatillo specialty salsa verde. To learn more about fresh tomatillos, check out our tomatillo guide below.

What are tomatillos?

It may come as a surprise, but tomatillos are actually not small versions of tomatoes, despite their name and appearance. Like tomatoes, they are fruits (another surprise), though they are usually green and smaller in size than tomatoes. Tomatillos usually have dry skin or a husk. 

Tomatillos have more of an acidic taste and don’t get as sweet as ripe tomatoes. They usually have a bright flavor, and the texture on the inside is less watery and more firm than tomatoes. 

To prep a tomatillo, you’ll want to remove the outer husk and give it a quick rinse to remove the sticky film left on the surface of this fruit. Tomatillos can be eaten raw, which is a good option if you want to experience the full acidity and bright flavor. Otherwise, you can opt to dial back that acidity by sautéing, roasting, or grilling them to suit your preferences.

Where did tomatillos originate from?

Tomatillos are native to Mexico and are featured in a number of traditional Mexican dishes. Other common names for tomatillos are the Mexican husk tomato, the jamberry, the husk cherry, and the Mexican tomato. Tomatillos are also now widely cultivated in the United States as well. Shop tomatillos.

How are tomatillos grown?

Tomatillos generally have a long growing season. However, farmers typically wait until the last frost of the spring occurs before planting tomatillo seeds. To get a jump start, some farmers will plant tomatillos indoors around eight weeks prior to the last frost, and then relocate the plants outside when it is safe to do so.

Tomatillo plants like to grow in full sun and require frequent watering. Farmers will place stakes or wire cages near tomatillo plants so that the vines will grow upward; without these apparatuses, the tomatillo fruit will weigh the vines down as they grow, allowing pests to more easily access the fruit since it’s closer to the ground.

When are tomatillos in season?

You can generally find tomatillos at your local grocery store in late summer and early fall. Farmers will harvest tomatillos when they reach their bright green color and grow to completely fill the outer husk. The outer husk will split at the bottom when the tomatillo is ripe enough to eat. They will continue to ripen until they reach a yellow and then a purple color. Shop fresh tomatillos by the pound.

How do you pick tomatillos at the grocery store?

When shopping for fresh tomatillos at the grocery store, you’ll want to pick out those that have a bright green color. You can also check the firmness of the tomatillos and select those with little to no soft spots. As previously stated, farmers generally harvest tomatillos with split outer husks, but you can double-check that the husk is split to ensure that the tomatillo is ripe enough to eat. The husk itself should be relatively tight-fitting around the fruit. 

If you are shopping with Instacart, be sure to relay your produce preferences to your shopper. Adding these quick tips can help your shopper pick the exact fresh produce you’re looking for.

How to store tomatillos

You can store whole tomatillos at room temperature. Unripe tomatillos that have not yet been cut into can be stored in most locations at room temperature, so your pantry or a basket on your counter should work fine. Be sure to leave whole tomatillos in their outer husks until you are ready to prepare and eat them. The ripening process will continue while the tomatillos are stored at room temperature, so be sure to either use them in the next few days or be prepared to store them in the refrigerator after this period of time.

Ripe tomatillos will last longer in your refrigerator. If you need more time before cooking your ripe tomatillos, place these fruits in a paper bag and stick them in a crisp part of your fridge. They will last there for about three weeks.

You can also freeze your tomatillos to help them last longer. To do so, go ahead and remove the outer husk and rinse the tomatillos so that no sticky residue remains on the surface of the fruit. Then, put the tomatillos in freezer bags and place them in the freezer. Be sure that your tomatillos are already ripe before placing them in the freezer since the ripening process will end once they are frozen.

How to tell if a tomatillo is bad

When shopping for fresh tomatillos, there are a few telltale signs that this fruit has gone bad. If you notice a tomatillo is very soft, it is likely overripe. Fresh, ripe tomatillos are firm to the touch, rather than squishy. A bad smell, mold, or a sticky residue are also signs that a tomatillo has already started to decompose and is no longer safe to eat.

What can I substitute for tomatillos?

While tomatoes and tomatillos are distinct fruits with their own textures and flavors, one substitute for a tomatillo is an underripe tomato with a splash of lime juice. Lime juice can also liven up a green bell pepper used as a substitute for tomatillos. In the absence of a lime, you can also mix gooseberries with green peppers to create a similar flavor and texture as that of tomatillos.

Shop fresh tomatillos with Instacart

Ready to try out some fresh tomatillos in your next dish? With Instacart, you can select your items at home or on the go, then simply schedule a pickup or drop-off time that works best for your schedule.

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