Tomatillo – Physalis philadelphica – 20 Seeds
Physalis philadelphica Lam.
Common names. English: tomatillo, husktomato, jamberry, ground cherry; Spanish: tomate de cascara, tomate de fresadilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde, tomatillo (Mexico), miltomate (Mexico, Guatemala)
The tomatillo or husk-tomato (Physalis philadelphica) is a solanaceous plant cultivated in Mexico and Guatemala and originating from Mesoamerica. Various archaeological findings show that its use in the diet of the Mexican population dates back to pre-Columbian times. Indeed, vestiges of Physalis sp. used as food have been found in excavations in the valley of Tehuacán (900 BC–AD 1540). In pre-Hispanic times in Mexico, it was preferred far more than the tomato (Lycopersicon sp.). However, this preference has not been maintained, except in the rural environment where, in addition to the persistence of old eating habits, the tomato’s greater resistance to rot is still valued. Possibly because of the fruit’s colourful appearance and because there are ways of eating it which are independent of the chili (Capsicum sp.), the tomato achieved greater acceptance outside Mesoamerica and Physalis sp. was marginalized, or its cultivation was discontinued, as happened in Spain. It is relevant to note that only in central Mexico is the fruit of Lycopersicon sp. known chiefly as “jitotomate”, since in other parts of the country and in Central and South America it is called “tomate”.
P. philadelphica was domesticated in Mexico from where it was taken to Europe and other parts of the world; its introduction into Spain has been well documented. Indeed, it is believed that this species originated in central Mexico where, at present, both wild and domesticated populations may be found.
The name “tomato” derives from the Nahuatl “tomatl”; this word is a generic one for globose fruits or berries which have many seeds, watery flesh and which are sometimes enclosed in a membrane.
Of the great number of species of the genus Physalis, very few are used for their fruit. P. peruviana L. has been grown in Peru since pre-Columbian times. The fruit of P. chenopodifolia is picked in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico. In Europe, P. alkekengi is grown as an ornamental plant because of the colourful calyx of its fruit, and its fruit also is used in central and southern Europe.
The tomatillo has been a constant component of the Mexican and Guatemalan diet up to the present day, chiefly in the form of sauces prepared with its fruit and ground chilies to improve the flavour of meals and stimulate the appetite. The tomatillo is also used in sauces with green chili, mainly to lessen its hot flavour. The fruit of the tomatillo is used cooked, or even raw, to prepare purees or minced meat dishes which are used as a base for chili sauces known generically as salsa verde (green sauce); they can be used to accompany prepared dishes or else be used as ingredients in various stews. An infusion of the husks (calyces) is added to tamale dough to improve its spongy consistency, as well as to that of fritters: it is also used to impart flavour to white rice and to tenderize red meats.