Have you seen those greenish-purple fruits covered in papery husks and resembling small tomatoes at your local farmers market? Or maybe a plant resembling a tomato plant has popped up in your garden, with delicate husks that look like Chinese lanterns forming from its flowers. These Mexican fruits are called tomatillos, or husk tomatoes, that belong the Nightshade family alongside peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. A staple of Mexican cuisine, tomate verde (as it is known in its native country) can be found in moles, salsas and even fresh salads. Learn how to harvest or pick out, store and enjoy this season’s delicious tomatillos with our short guide.
5 FAQs About Harvesting Tomatillos
1. What Do Ripe Tomatillos Look Like?
Tomatillo plants are rather bushy, with stems that are more delicate than those of tomato or pepper plants. They grow to a height of 3-4 feet and bear a fruiting structure that resembles a Chinese lantern. The tomatillo grows inside this ‘lantern’ and becomes ripe once it has filled the husk and begins turning yellowish-green. Purple tomatillos will turn a deep purple color when ripe, although the husk also begins to yellow. Ripe tomatillos are also firmer than tomatoes, and should be discarded if they’re turning soft or have split.
2. When Should I Harvest (or Buy) Tomatillos?
Tomatillos are ready for harvest 75 to 100 days after transplanting them into the garden. This means that they are generally harvested from August to October, depending on the climate in your particular area. The size of the fruit will depend on the cultivar, though a tomatillo is usually 1-2 inches in diameter. It is recommended to harvest the fruits when the husks have turned from a bright green to a tan color, and the fruit is a pale green. The same goes when choosing tomatillos at the market or grocery store.
3. How Should I Harvest Tomatillos?
Tomatillos can easily be harvested by hand and placed in a shallow basket or container. Make sure not to pile the tomatillos too high in the container, as the ones on the bottom will be crushed under the weight. Tomatillos often fall over from the weight of their fruit, so be careful not to crush the fruit with your feet whilst working in the rows.
4. How Should I Store Tomatillos?
It’s best to store tomatillos in their husks in a paper bag or other aerated container. Keep them in a cool environment like the refrigerator or garage. The husks act as a protective shell and much like the stem of a tomato, keep rot and moisture from entering at the top of the fruit. Tomatillos can keep this way for up to a month.
5. How Do I Eat Tomatillos?
Tomatillos have a tangy flavor that's like a cross between a lemon, pineapple and raw potato. They lose a bit of their astringent flavor when cooked, which makes them perfect for moles, stews, and roasted salsas. Tomatillos are also a nice addition to a salsa fresca or a salad if finely chopped and added in small quantities. To prepare tomatillos for cooking, remove the husks and wash them to remove the sticky residue on the fruit’s surface. Use a cast iron pan to roast your tomatillos and you’ll get a lovely, caramelized flavor out of these wonderful green tomatoes.