If you enjoy Mexican food you’ve probably already come across tomatillos. Some people think of tomatillos as peppers or tomatoes, and they look a little like pumpkins, but they’re none of those things.
When you need a substitution for tomatillos, you can look at their canned version first, which is often available even in countries that do not have the fresh product. Other replacements for tomatillos include green tomatoes, chiles, peppers, and gooseberries.
The best substitutes for tomatillos
Fresh tomatillos are very hard to replace, in fact, as much as you can get closer to their taste with other foods, usually, nothing can quite compare.
Tomatillos have their origin in Mexico, which is still where the largest production of tomatillos takes place. American farmers became interested in this fruit when they realized their high resistance to diseases.
Today, many people grow tomatillos in their own yard, especially when they can’t find it anywhere else.
The name tomatillo literally means “little tomato”, even if these green fruits and the average tomato have many differences, in fact, tomatillos are:
– Less sweet than tomatoes
– More acidic than tomatoes
– Less watery than tomatoes
– Denser than tomatoes
– More vegetal in taste than tomatoes
Tomatillos are mainly used in soups, salsas, green sauces, salad dressings, guacamole, or as the stuffing ingredient for quesadillas and tacos.
When using tomatillos to make salsa, you can also use them raw, but they’re quite better when cooked because they develop a sweeter taste.
Unfortunately, tomatillos are not available everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy some of the most famous Mexican dishes at home!
For this purpose, we compiled a list of the 5 best tomatillo substitutes for your recipes.
1. Canned tomatillos
The best substitute for tomatillos is canned tomatillos. They’re usually already pre-cooked so you need to be careful not to overcook them because they’re very soft.
You can find them diced or you can also find crushed tomatillos. They taste sweeter than fresh tomatillos and you will get similar results as if you used the fresh product, but when you can, always opt for the fresh one cause the taste remains unmatched.
If you’re growing your own tomatillo plants, you can make canned tomatillos at home. It’s a good way to preserve the whole fruits all year long.
Since you need to simmer tomatillos before you can put them into jars, producing your own canned tomatillos will also save you a lot of cooking in the long run.
Another option would be to roast them in the oven to make them develop a stronger, caramelized flavor.
Canned tomatillos are good for sauces and salsa, although they may not give them the same bright green color as the fresh fruit.
2. Green tomatoes
When you’re looking for a tomatillo or canned tomatillos substitute, green tomatoes are a good alternative and will help you reach very similar results as the original.
Tomatillos are tarter than tomatoes, but if you carefully choose under-ripe green tomatoes with thick walls they should work well as a tomatillos substitute. Taste them beforehand to check if they’re sour enough.
To reach the desired tartness, you can add a tablespoon of lime or lemon juice, which will also help in replicating the citrus-like flavor of tomatillos.
As an alternative, you can follow this process to make your green tomatoes as similar as possible in taste and moisture to tomatillos:
– Start by removing the core of the green tomatoes.
– Cut each tomato into four parts (quartering).
– Gently use your fingers to scrape the seed pockets where most of the water is stored.
– Chop the tomatoes and toss them into a colander with some salt (start with a teaspoon and adjust depending on the number of tomatoes).
– Let them drain in the colander for 30 minutes.
– Dump them on a kitchen towel and dry them thoroughly.
Green tomatoes are best used as an alternative to tomatillos in sauces, salsas, and soup.
3. Green bell peppers
Among all bell peppers, green peppers are probably the ones who most resemble the taste of tomatillos, because they’re less sweet than the colored bell peppers and have an earthy taste.
If you’ve ever tasted green bell peppers and red bell peppers, you know how striking the difference between the two peppers is. However, you might be surprised to know that tomatillos are even tarter than green peppers.
Still, you can use green peppers as a substitute for tomatillo, as long as you fix the taste a little. Green peppers have a similar texture and color to tomatillos, so once you add some lime juice or tamarind paste, you will get very similar results as the original.
If you’re out of options for both tomatillos and green peppers, there are several bell peppers substitutes that could help you save your recipe. As with many things in the kitchen, creativity and resourcefulness can go a long way to save a meal.
Gooseberries have a tartness that closely resembles that of tomatillos, with a somewhat grape undertone.
They recently made a comeback in US stores after being banned for a long time for carrying a disease that could affect and destroy white pines. Now, you can easily find them at the grocery store or even online.
There are many different reasons to choose gooseberries as your preferred tomatillo substitute:
– They’re highly nutritious.
– They’re low in calories and fats, but high in fibers.
– They’re rich in antioxidants.
– They might help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar control.
– They’re a natural source of organic acids that help reduce excessive iron levels.
– They contain potassium which is good for blood vessel health.
Gooseberries can be a nice substitute for tomatillos when used alone, but most people prefer to use them in combo with green peppers.
In fact, the preferred way to use these berries is to ground them and mix them with roasted green peppers. This way, the sourness of fresh gooseberries completes the hot flavor of green peppers, creating a mixture that very much resembles the taste of tomatillos.
5. Green chiles
If you’re up for some experimenting, you can move North from Mexico to reach New Mexico and its culinary innovations.
You’ve surely heard and tasted the famous Mexican salsa verde, which revolves around tomatillos.
New Mexico cooking has its own salsa verde, which heavily relies on green chiles instead of tomatillos or green tomatoes. In fact, New Mexican cooks often remove tomatillos from the recipe entirely.
If you’re planning on making salsa verde, you can use chopped tomatoes, onions, salt, and roasted green chiles. While the result will be slightly different than when using tomatillos, you may find a new favorite.
This salsa verde might be less sour than the one made with tomatillos, so if you wish to fix the acidity, squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice in the recipe.
The benefits of green chiles as tomatillo substitutes do not end here. In fact, outside of salsa verde, you can also make other typical Mexican dishes by swapping tomatillos with canned diced green chiles and add a bit of lime juice to adjust the taste.
How to choose a tomatillo substitute.
If you’re going for canned products, just make sure to check the best by date on the package and you’re good to go. When it comes to fresh products, you will need to pay a little more attention.
Tomatillos are considered mature enough when they reach a yellow-green color and manage to completely fill their husk. Inside, the tomatillo may have somewhat of a slimy coat, which will go away once you rinse it.
However, for most vegetables and fruits a slimy coat means that the product is past its prime. In fact, there are many things to consider when choosing a tomatillo substitute:
– Check the skin: fresh products should have tight, lucid skin with little to no flaws. There shouldn’t be dark spots, dots, slimy coats, or anything of the sort.
– Check the color: you should check beforehand what color the ripe product you’re looking for should have. It is common to mistake green skin for unripe, but it’s not always the case. Some products may also have stayed in the store for too long and are too mature to be used for certain recipes, since they may have changed in taste.
– Check the consistency: fresh products should feel firm and heavy to the touch. If there are spongy areas, holes, or dents, it may be due to poor management, transport or the product is simply not as fresh as it seems.
– Check the smell: not all vegetables and fruits have particular scents, but when something is rotting, you can usually smell the difference with a fresh product. Even if they don’t give off an unpleasant smell, a strong scent may be a sign that the product is too mature. The ideal scent for fresh products is mild and pleasant.
– Check the environment: make sure the products are stored properly and at the right temperature. When you walk into a store and you feel too hot, smell something unpleasant in the air or you see swarms of flies around, it is safe to assume they do not care about keeping their products fresh and properly stored.
Last, but not least, trust your instinct. Sometimes, your eyes can deceive you, and even something that looks perfectly fine in shape, weight, and color might feel just a little too soft or spongy.
When you can, do prefer buying from farmers rather than big stores. You can always trust farmers to have the freshest, seasonal products and you can check with them that the cultivation process is as natural as possible.