A well-established South of the border immigrant, the tomatillo, with its roots deeply planted in the ancient Aztec culture, needs no visa today. It’s even possible that the tomatillo, which means little tomato in Spanish, came from Central and South America and was cultivated in Mexico by the Aztecs before the tomato arrived. Some people call it a jamberry, while others refer to it as a husk tomato.
The Spanish conquistadors, intrigued by many of the foods the Aztecs typically enjoyed, might have brought these treasures back with them to Spain. The name they introduced into Spain for these wonderful fruits of the vine was actually a corruption of the Aztec word for tomatoes. The Aztecs referred to a plump fruit as tomatl. The tomato, in their language, was xitomatl and tomatillos were called miltomatl. However, the Spaniards brought back “tomates.” Historians are not sure if tomatoes or tomatillos or both were offloaded from the explorers’ ships.
Tomatillo Tomatillos earn their diminutive name by their petite size that varies from that of a cherry tomato to one of a small tomato. What makes them unique in appearance is their paperlike cellulose husk covering that resembles the shape of a small green lantern that hangs downward from the bushy, annual plant on which it grows. Inside the protective husk is a smooth, plump, firm variety of tomato that is usually picked green. When fully ripened, they are actually yellow, but these are rarely brought to market. The husks turn a greenish brown when the fruit is losing its freshness.