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Similarities and Differences between Tomatillos and Green Tomatoes

Updated on September 8, 2016
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Beverley Byer has been published offline in magazines and newspapers as well as online. Topics include religion, inspiration, health, food.

Many people believe that tomatillos are a variety of tomatoes or that they are little, immature, green tomatoes. They are neither. However, there are a number of similarities as there are differences between them. Let us first take a look at:

Similarities and Differences in Appearance

Tomatillos and green tomatoes look alike: round (usually), green skin, fleshy with many tiny seeds. But tomatillos have a green covering called a husk or a calyx that resembles thin paper, and often splits open when they ripen. They also come in the colors purple, purple-striped, yellow, and red.

The green tomatoes you see in the market could be unripe, but there is a variety with green skin. They are called lime green salad tomatoes, green pineapple, green grape, and when they have yellow stripes, zebra.

Tomatillos | Source

Historical Similarities and Differences

Though used as vegetables, tomatillos and green tomatoes are fruits, berries to be exact. They are annuals of the same plant family Solanaceae or Nightshade, but of different genus. Other members of the Nightshade clan consumed as food include eggplant, pepper, and potato. Both plants originated in Latin America thousands of years ago. Tomatillos were found mainly in Mexico and Guatemala. The plants were cultivated by native Indians, and introduced to Europe and Asia by Spanish explorers.

The scientific name for tomatillo is Physalis philadelphica. Two well-known Mexican varieties are Rendidora and Rendidora mejorada. Common names, especially in the Hispanic community, include tomate, tomate verde, milomate, tomate de cascara, tomate de fresadilla, jamberry, husk tomato, and ground cherry. Green tomato’s scientific name is Solanum lycopersicum or Lycopersicon esculentum. There is some discussion as to which name is the most appropriate.

Green Tomatoes
Green Tomatoes | Source

Similarities and Difference in Taste, Texture, and Cuisine

Both tomatillos and green tomatoes are sweet, slightly tart, crisp, and firm. Europeans first thought that they were toxic and used them ornamentally. Eventually, they found their way into kitchens. According to the article “What Are the Benefits of Green Tomatoes” by Sara Ipatenco, it is safer to cook green tomatoes, since eating them raw can still be poisonous.

Tomatillos are used heavily in Hispanic cuisine, especially Mexican. They are found as ingredients in salads, rice, stews, soups, curries, sauces such as salsa verde, guacamole, sandwiches, jams, preserves, and as a meat tenderizer. The calyx is often added to tamale dough to improve texture.

Fried green tomatoes, as most of us may know is a staple dish in the Southern region of the United States of America (U.S.A.). Green tomatoes are also used in stews, sauces, and condiments such as green ketchup.

Similarities and Difference in Nutrients

Tomatillos and green tomatoes are nutritious. Both are low in calories, fat, and protein, and have no cholesterol. They are rich in dietary fiber and vitamin C, and have varying small quantities of vitamins A, B, E, and K with tomatillos having the larger amounts of thiamine (B-1), niacin (B-3), folate (B-9), and K. They also have the minerals calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. Additionally, tomatillos have small amounts of selenium, sodium, and zinc, while green tomatoes are said to have traces of chromium, magnesium, molybdenum. Some researchers claim that green tomatoes also have traces of the amino acid tryptophan.

Regarding antioxidants, tomatillos are richer in types and perhaps quantity. And while both fruits are loaded with beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin a lutein isomer, tomatillos have substantial quantities of other lutein isomers as well as withanalides and flavonoids.

Similarities and Differences in Health Benefits

Because of their dietary fiber content, both tomatillos and green tomatoes can help us eliminate waste and toxins from our bodies. In turn, this helps to lower blood sugar, prevent type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer, and promote good digestive health. Their rich storehouse of vitamin A helps us to have healthy vision, skin, and mucus membranes. The vitamin C is great for our hair, nails, skin, gums, teeth, muscles, heart, iron absorption, and a strong immune system. It also prevents cancer by protecting our cells from free radical damage. The vitamin E too protects our cells from free radical damage as well as staves off anemia, and reduces cataract risks.

Their potassium concentrations help to control our heart rate, reduce blood pressure, remove toxins from our blood streams, and prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). The beta-carotene and zeaxanthin help prevent cancers of the skin, breast, lung, stomach, liver, and prostate, aid in the production of white blood cells, strengthen our vision, and decrease other age-related ailments. The other antioxidants in tomatillos also help to lower cancer risk and have anti-bacterial properties.

Similarities and Differences Regarding Allergies

Tomatillos and green tomatoes can trigger similar reactions in people who are allergic to them. Symptoms include itchy eyes and skin, runny nose, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Similarities and Differences in Purchasing and Shelf Life

Whereas tomatillos are mainly found in Hispanic markets, green tomatoes are widely available, especially in the Southern regions of the U.S.A. When purchasing tomatillos make sure they are still in their calyxes, firm, and blemish-free. The green variety is best for utmost flavor and sweetness. Green tomatoes should also be firm and free of blemishes.

Both ‘vegetables’ can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. If the calyxes are removed from tomatillos, they could last a bit longer.


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