Tomatillo Varieties: Exploring the World of Tangy Tomatillos

Have you ever heard of tomatillos? These vibrant and versatile fruits have been a summer favorite of mine for the past four years. With each passing season, I’ve learned more about growing them and discovered the countless ways they can be used in the kitchen. In fact, I’ve become so enamored with tomatillos that I now aim to grow and freeze as many of these intriguing fruits as I do tomatoes.

What Are Tomatillos?

Tomatillos are small fruits that start off green and eventually transform into a beautiful shade of purple. Encased in a husk or capsule resembling a Chinese lantern, they have a unique taste that can be described as a delightful blend of plum and tomato, with a sweeter profile than your average tomato. Traditionally used in South America to create “Salsa Verde” (green salsa), tomatillos also add a delightful sweetness to cooked dishes such as curries, stews, and soups. They can even be roasted and served with ice cream or used to make a delicious cake. Belonging to the tomato family, they are related to Cape gooseberries and ground cherries.

Growing Tomatillos

Tomatillos are annual vegetables that need to be sown each year in warm soil, just like tomatoes. They produce pretty yellow flowers and attractive green foliage that is relatively disease-free. However, they are poorly self-fertile, so it’s best to plant two to three plants to ensure a good yield. While direct sowing is an option, I prefer starting with seedlings to gain a head start. Spacing them 50-60cm apart allows enough room for each plant to flourish. As for their growth habits, you can experiment with different methods: growing them in rings of mesh, letting them sprawl over the ground, or even creating long rows supported by mesh cages.

Harvesting and Processing

When it comes to harvesting tomatillos, wait until the fruit is large and full within the casing, or when the casing starts to brown off. It’s crucial to remove the casings within a day or so to prevent any potential damage or spoilage. Peeling the fruit can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort. Simply wash off the sticky coating before drying the fruit and storing it in a cool room for several weeks until you’re ready to process it.

The Tomatillo Trial

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Rowan from Garden Larder, a wholesale seed producer who supplies Eden Seeds. During our conversation, I mentioned my love for tomatillos and was amazed to discover that she grew three special cultivars of them, in addition to the normal variety I was familiar with. Inspired by this, I decided to embark on a tomatillo trial this year, growing four different varieties to determine which one reigns supreme.

The Varieties

Tomatillo ‘Verde’

This variety is the classic green tomatillo, sometimes displaying a flush of purple. The fruits can range from 4-5cm across, but even smaller ones are great additions to savory dishes, despite being less sweet.

Tomatillo ‘Amarylla’

An unusual yellow variety, the ‘Amarylla’ tomatillo offers a sweetness that sets it apart from other tomatillos’ more tomato-like flavors. Harvest them when the skins split, revealing their delectable sweetness. While some people may find the aftertaste unique, I unfortunately didn’t get enough fruit to compare it with cakes made from the normal ‘Verde’ variety. Perhaps next year!

Tomatillo ‘Plaza Latina’

These tomatillos are larger in size, making for faster harvesting and less peeling. They can grow up to 10cm across, but due to my excitement, I devoured them before measuring or weighing them. They also ripen later than the normal variety, so I’ll make sure to protect them from frost and plant them in early November next year. With their bigger fruits, providing support using mesh cages is ideal. I also noted that most of the large fruits split, indicating the need for more water or better monitoring next season.

Tomatillo ‘Tiny from Coban’

This unique variety of tomatillo is unusually savory in flavor, but harvesting them can be time-consuming due to their small size (less than 1cm across). Unlike other tomatillos, the skins of this variety don’t split when ripe. Instead, you can gauge ripeness by feel and sample. For a flavor boost, peel the fruits and leave them in a well-lit spot to develop a purplish hue. I’m excited to try this method next year!

Tomatillo ‘Purple’

Although I haven’t grown this variety yet, I plan to give it a shot in the coming spring to see how it compares. Mature fruits are around 3-4cm across, boast a dark purple skin, and offer a sharper flavor than the green tomatillos. Stay tuned for updates!

Trial Observations and Future Plans

Despite facing challenges, such as late planting, a harsh summer, and early frosts, I managed to glean some valuable insights from this year’s tomatillo trial. I observed that ‘Amarylla’ and ‘Plaza Latina’ were affected by the first light frost, while ‘Verde’ and ‘Tiny from Coban’ seemed to withstand it. Additionally, I learned that leaving some fallen fruit on the ground can potentially lead to self-seeding in the following year, although I haven’t experienced it in my garden. To conduct a more rigorous trial next year, I’ll ensure proper planning, separate planting areas, and distractions for bees during the flowering season.

In Conclusion

While my tomatillo trial this year didn’t yield the results I had hoped for due to various factors, such as frost and late planting, it was still a fruitful endeavor. I currently have a freezer stocked with tomatillo cakes and containers filled with frozen tomatillos, all waiting to be enjoyed. Despite the challenges faced, I am excited to refine my approach next year and delve even deeper into the world of tangy tomatillos.