Many people love Mexican food but are not always aware of the full range of ingredients used to prepare some of their favorite dishes. One example lies in those little green tomatoes, which are not really tomatoes at all. For those that would like a closer look at what makes our food so delicious, the team at Papa Lopez Mexican Cantina would like to explain the difference between tomatoes and tomatillos.
Don't be Fooled by Their Shared Good Looks
It's true that tomatillos and green tomatoes share a very similar appearance, but they are completely different things. A green tomato is simply a tomato that has yet to ripen (although some heirloom varieties will retain most of their green coloring even when ripe). When left to ripen on the vine, green tomatoes will achieve their red, purple, orange or yellow destinies. All tomatoes start out green, but the vast majority will turn a different color if given the opportunity. Tomatillos, on the other hand, will generally retain their green hue when ripe, although some varieties will take on a yellow, purple or red color as ripening progresses. Tomatillos are also distinctive because they grow with a papery husk on their exterior, while tomatoes are bare.
What About Taste Differences?
Green tomatoes, because they have not been allowed to ripen, have a tart and slightly sour taste. In fact, most cooks use them only in dishes where they will be fried or stewed, which knocks down their sharp taste. You would not likely use a sliced green tomato on a sandwich or in an uncooked dish, as the flavor would simply be too tart. Tomatillos, on the other hand, are often used raw in salsas, sauces and even gazpachos. Tomatillos are also slightly tart, but also have an herbal and fruity flavor that is lacking in unripe green tomatoes. It is generally not advised to try to substitute one for the other.
What is the Most Common Use for Tomatillos?
Perhaps the most well-known dish that incorporates tomatillos is salsa verde. This fresh mix of tomatillos, chiles, cilantro and onion brings a bright, zesty flavor to a wide range of dishes. It can also be used as a stand-alone dip for vegetables or tortilla chips. Salsa verde can be made using raw tomatillos, or the flavor can be deepened by first roasting the tomatillos before incorporating them into the recipe.
At Papa Lopez Mexican Cantina, our kitchen is staffed by skilled professionals who take pride in the dishes that they prepare for our guests. We welcome you to come in and try our salsa verde or any of our other authentic Mexican dishes. We have a full bar and plenty of daily specials to entice you to enjoy an old favorite or to try something new. When you want delicious Mexican food in a warm and welcoming environment, we are here to deliver!