The tomatillo plant (botanical name, Physalis philadelphica), also called the Mexican husk tomato, belongs to the nightshade family and produces small, globular fruits, which are also called tomatillo. An inedible papery husk encircles the tomatillo fruit. This husk develops from the calyx. When the fruit ripens, it fills the husk, which is split open after harvesting. While the color of the husk changes to brown on maturing, the fruit itself can have many different colors when ripe - green, red, yellow and sometimes even purple. The quality of tomatillo fruit is assessed from the greenness and freshness of its husk.
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The tomatillo fruit has got its name from tomato. This is mainly because when European explorers discovered this small green vegetable they related it with a small tomato. As a result, while people worldwide call the vividly red tomatoes as "tomatoes", people in Central America and Mexico continue to refer to this green vegetable as "tomate".
Tomatillos are native to Mexico and this vegetable has been grown since the pre-Columbian era. Tomatillos form a staple in Mexican cooking. These fruits can be consumed raw or after cooking. They can be added to a variety of food preparations, especially salsa verde.
Tomatillos form a vital ingredient in fresh as well as cooked green sauces made by people in Mexico and Central America. The green color of the vegetable and its tart flavor are the primary culinary contributions of tomatillos. Different from the green and yellow ripe tomatillo cultivars, the red and purple red variety of the ripened fruit is somewhat sweet and, hence, they are commonly used for making jams and preserves. Similar to cape gooseberries, which are a close relative of tomatillos, these small vegetables contain elevated levels of pectin. This vegetable also seems to have a varying amount of a sap-like sticky coating, usually when it is used on its green side after removing the husk.
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The tomatillo plants are extremely self-incompatible. Usually, it requires two or more tomatillo plants to ensure proper pollination of their flowers. Hence, growing a tomatillo plant in isolation will seldom bear a fruit.
Like many other vegetables, the dietary fiber content of tomatillos is quite high. In other words, consumption of tomatillos is beneficial for the health of our digestive system, because the dietary fiber contained by this vegetable has the aptitude to add bulk to foods as well as help them to move more quickly through the digestive tract. This action of dietary fiber helps to do away with excess gas formation, bloating, constipation, cramping and some more serious ailments like gastric ulcers and colon cancer. In addition, dietary fiber is also useful for controlling carbohydrate (simple sugar) release into the blood stream, and by this means regulate the glucose levels in the blood stream. This is of great importance for people with diabetes, as they need to control the levels of glucose as well as insulin in their body strictly.
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It is worth mentioning here that tomatillos enclose outstanding antioxidant phytochemicals known as withanolides. Scientists have directly associated these antioxidant phytochemicals to the vegetable's ability to counter carcinogenic cells and bacteria. Most of us are already aware that antioxidants help us to neutralize the harmful free radicals, which are basically hazardous by-products of cellular reproduction, which has the potential to mutate or even kill the healthy cells and transform them into carcinogenic cells. Tomatillos also contain satisfactory amounts of vitamins A and C, in addition to flavonoids, which also protect us from developing various cancer forms, such as oral and lung cancers.
Vitamin C present in tomatillos possesses the ability to perk up the immune system by promoting white blood cell (leukocytes) - the most important line of the body's defence against pathogens and other foreign agents. In addition, vitamin C also plays a vital role in collagen production. Apart from ensuring the health of the heart and developing new skin tissues, collagen is also responsible for the creation of cells and tissues that are a part of our various organs and blood vessels. Collagen also helps to augment the sustainability as well as metabolic functions of our body. Hence, consuming tomatillos is beneficial for the promotion of our overall health.
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Since long, vitamin A has been linked to good vision as well as the health of our eyes. Tomatillos enclose beta carotene, which is basically derived from vitamin A and serves as an antioxidant, thereby preventing cataracts, macular degeneration and various other conditions related to our eyes' health.
People who are struggling or trying to lose extra weight will find tomatillos very beneficial. This vegetable is not only high in nutritional value, but has a very low calorie count and low levels of fat. At the same time, it contains high levels of dietary fiber, which helps to give a feeling of being full for a long period, thereby reducing the craving for food. Tomatillos are also useful for providing all the essential nutrients required by our body every day, while lessening the risks of overeating, as consumption of this fruit makes one feel full. Precisely speaking, consumption of tomatillos is perfect for people who are keen to reduce obesity and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Tomatillos also contain niacin, which belongs to the family of B vitamins. Unfortunately, the importance of niacin vis-à-vis the human health is often overlooked. In effect, niacin is a vital constituent of the enzymatic processes that break down ingested foods and other complex molecules into energy that can be used by our body. When the availability of energy is enhanced, it makes the various processes inside our body, including metabolism, further efficient. Hence, niacin present in tomatillos can supply us with a sustainable energy boost all through our day.
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The ratio of potassium to sodium in tomatillos is favourable. In other words, such positive ratio can help to bring down high blood pressure. Potassium serves as a vasodilator (it dilates the blood vessels), thereby reducing the stress on the cardiovascular system and, at the same time, encourages circulation as well as oxygenation to the very important areas of our body. Moreover, when tomatillos are used in combination with a food that is also high in dietary fiber content and can lessen the levels of "bad" or LDL cholesterol, this vegetable is able to enhance the health of the heart by diminishing the risks of developing heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis.
Tomatillos have several culinary uses. This vegetable is not only a key ingredient of the well-known Mexican green sauces, but also a variety of other sauces. Tomatillo cultivars that bear red or purple fruits have a somewhat sweet flavour and, hence, are better suited for making jams and preserves. You can fry, steam or even broil tomatillos in the same way as you would use the traditional tomatoes.
When mixed with onions, garlic and herbs such as cilantro and cumin, tomatillos impart an excellent essence to Mexican recipes like burritos, tacos, and enchiladas. In addition, tomatillos also enhance the flavour of soups, salads and sandwiches. While tomatillos form a vital ingredient of salsa verde, this fruit can also be used in the form of a wonderful base for all types of salsa.
It has been found that the dietary fiber content of tomatillos is very high. On the other hand, it contains very few calories and low levels of fat. Tomatillos also contain reasonable amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and niacin. It also encloses many essential minerals like potassium, magnesium and manganese. Talking about organic compounds, this vegetable contain withanolides and flavonoids like beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Vegetables belonging to the family nightshade usually have a tendency to enclose elevated levels of alkaloids. Unfortunately, the presence of alkaloids in nightshade vegetables makes the joint inflammations worse, provided you are already suffering from problems related to inflammation or arthritis. Nevertheless, the alkaloid content of tomatillos is low compared to other vegetables in this plant family. Having said this, it is important that you check with your physician prior to including tomatillos in your diet, especially if you are already enduring any of the health conditions discussed above.
Generally, tomatillos are harvested when they are yet to be completely ripe. The reason behind this is that the flavour of green tomatillos is tart and, hence, they are useful in sauces, especially salsas. If tomatillos are allowed to ripen completely, their color changes to yellow or purple and some of them have a somewhat sweet flavour. They contain many more seeds when completely ripe.
Knowledge about harvesting tomatillos is very important if you wish to improve continuous fruiting. Select the tomatillo fruits that have already split open their husk and do not bear any sign of disease, damages by insect or mold. Discard all damaged fruits and use them as compost. In order to prevent causing harm to other fruits or the stem, cut the ripened tomatillo from the plant carefully.
Mornings are the best time to harvest tomatillos. These fruits can be harvested from the middle of summer to fall. In order to know whether or not a tomatillo fruit is ready for harvesting, it is advisable that you observe the external husk of the fruit. Tomatillo plants produce paper-like shells inside which the fruit develops. The papery shell is the husk of the fruit.
You should harvest the tomatillo fruit immediately after its dry external shell splits open. When you have the complete knowledge about harvesting tomatillo fruits, you will be able to choose how you should apply them. It is best to store tomatillos in a cool, dry place. If stored in such conditions, the fruits will remain viable for many weeks. If you want to store the fruits for longer periods, you can freeze them in a refrigerator.