Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Physalis ixocarpa

By Jeremy Trombley

Also known as the green tomato or husk tomato, the tomatillo is a wonderful addition to a variety of cuisines. They are especially prevalent in the foods of their homeland, Mexico and Central America, most notably the variety of green sauces of the region.

Origin and Description

The tomatillo plant is native to Mexico and Central America where several wild varieties continue to grow. They were first domesticated centuries before the arrival of Europeans to the continent, and were a staple crop of the Aztec and Maya empires along with maize and tomatoes.

The tomatillo is distantly related to the tomato, and bears a strong resemblance to unripe, green tomatoes. However, unlike their distant cousins, tomatillos grow inside of fine, papery husks which turn brown as the fruit ripens. The fruits are smaller than tomatoes, but grow large enough to break through their husks when ripe. They can be found in a variety of colors including yellow, purple, or red, but the most commonly seen variety is green.


Interest in the tomatillo in Europe was not significant, and it never became a major crop there. However, it was introduced to India in the 1950s, and it has been cultivated in the region of Rajasthan since. It also gained a foothold in Australia and parts of Africa, indeed, it has become a weed in Kenya because it is so prolific.


Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

Morton, Julia. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: Julia F. Morton, 1987.