The Tomatillo or Husk tomato (Physalis philadelphica Lam., 1786) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Solanaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
P. philadelphica species.
The terms are synonyms:
– Physalis angulata var. philadelphica (Lam.) A.Gray;
– Physalis cavaleriei H.Lév.;
– Physalis chenopodiifolia Willd., non Lam., nom. Illeg;
– Physalis laevigata M.Martens & Galeotti;
– Physalis megistocarpa Zuccagni;
– Physalis mexicana Molina;
– Physalis mexicana Molina ex Colla;
– Physalis philadelphica f. pilosa Waterf.;
– Physalis philadelphica var. minor Dunal;
– Physalis violacea Carrière.
Within this species some authors recognize the following subspecies and varieties:
– Physalis philadelphica subsp. ixocarpa (Brot. ex Hornem.) Sobr.-Vesp. & Sanz-Elorza;
– Physalis philadelphica subsp. Philadelphica;
– Physalis philadelphica var. immaculata Waterf.;
– Physalis philadelphica var. parviflora Waterf.;
– Physalis philadelphica var. philadelphica Lam..
The term Physalis comes from the Greek φῡσᾰλέος physaléos full of air (from φῡσα physa bubble): due to the characteristic accreting goblet that forms a sort of balloon.
The specific epithet philadelphica is in reference to Philadelphia, a US city in Pennsylvania.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Physalis philadelphica is a plant native to Mexico, whose fruits are a staple of the local cuisine.
The plant is mainly grown in the Mexican states of Hidalgo and Morelos and in the highlands of Guatemala where it is known as miltomate. In the United States these plants have been cultivated since 1863. A further distribution occurred in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Florida; by the mid-20th century, the plant was further exported to India, Australia, South Africa and Kenya.
The currently available biogeographic and taxonomic evidence indicates, on the one hand, that Mexico is the greatest center of diversity for the genus Physalis. It is widely distributed throughout most of the country, but predominantly in a thick band up to the west, south-west and center of the country. Its distribution includes a large part of the states of Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Oaxaca, the State of Mexico, the Federal District, Morelos, Puebla, Guerrero, Aguascalientes, Tlaxcala and Zacatecas and a smaller share of Chiapas, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Colima, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz and Nuevo León, avoiding the coasts and the Balsas River basin. It has been introduced sporadically in the United States and in Central and South America, spontaneously in the central area of Chile, in the interior valleys of the metropolitan region up to the Bio-Bio region and in the Antilles.
As for its natural habitat, it extends from tropical to subtropical areas, such as in Mexico and Guatemala where it grows spontaneously. This plant is also often grown in other parts of the world for its edible fruit.
Physalis philadelphica is a herbaceous and branched annual plant that grows around 60 – 100 cm in height.
The stem is round and smooth.
The leaves are alternate, 3,7-7,9 cm long and 1,5-4,5 cm broad, ovate to ovate-lanceolate in shape, with acute apex, oblique base, from cuneate to truncated, margin from entire to dentate, sharp and short teeth; the petiole is 1,0-2,5 cm long.
The flowers are solitary; flower buds are ovate, 3-5 mm long; the flower pedicel is 7-9 mm long; the calyx is 4-7 mm long, divided about halfway into deltoid or ovate lobes, often with dark purple hues. The corolla is yellow, 0.9-1.6 cm long and 1.0-2.0 cm in diameter, pubescent neck, simple purple to blue spots, stamens with blue anthers. The calyx is globular, with 10 slightly marked lines on the fruit, very swollen on the berry, 1.0-2.7 cm long and 1.0-2.5 cm broad, green with purplish hues at the base, smooth; the fruiting pedicels are up to 1,2 cm long.
The fruit is a berry up to 1.5 cm in diameter. This is surrounded by a peel, inedible, similar to the paper formed by the cup. When it reaches maturity it fills the peel which at the time of harvesting can be open, brown in color while the ripe fruit has different colors ranging from yellow to red, green or even purple.
The calyx enveloping the fruit is toxic and should not be eaten.
Physalis philadelphica is a plant that prefers a warm and sunny climate. It grows well in well-drained soils and requires a good amount of water to develop properly. These plants are often found in cultivated fields or in gardens where the climate is favourable.
The edible fruit is harvested in the wild, while the plant is sometimes also cultivated.
For its cultivation, bear in mind that it is a plant of the tropics and subtropics, where it can be found at altitudes of up to 2,600 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are between 15-25°C, but can tolerate 8-31°C.
The plant does not tolerate frost and prefers an average annual rainfall between 700 and 1,000 mm, but tolerates between 600 and 1,100 mm.
From a pedological point of view, it grows in any well-drained soil in full sun or light shade, where it prefers a pH in the range of 6 – 7, tolerating 5 – 8.
Tomatillo plants are highly self-incompatible (self-sterile), and therefore two or more plants are required for successful pollination.
Propagation is by seed with direct sowing in the pine field. Germination is usually quick and free. Diurnal temperature fluctuations promote germination with daytime temperatures of 30°C dropping to 21°C at night.
Customs and Traditions –
The tomatillo is also known as “peel tomato”, “peel cherry” or “Mexican tomato”, but the latter is the most appropriate to describe this small fruit. These names may also refer to other species of the genus Physalis. In Spanish, it is called tomate de cáscara, tomate de frasedilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde, tomatillo (this term in Mexico means “little tomato”), miltomate (in Mexico and Guatemala), or simply tomate (in which case the tomato is called jitomate).
It has been known in Mexico since pre-Columbian times. The Aztecs cultivated it extensively and called it “miltomatl” which means cultivated tomato.
All parts of the plant except the fruit are poisonous.
Tomatillos are the key ingredient in many raw and cooked salsa verdes in Mexican and Central American cuisine. The freshness and green color of the skin are quality criteria. The fruit must be firm and bright green in colour; the acid taste and the green color are the main culinary qualities.
The tomatillo is grown as an annual plant throughout the western hemisphere, the fruits are used for the preparation of chili-like sauces or eaten fried, boiled or steamed.
The fruit of this plant is eaten raw or cooked; it has a delicious aroma when used like a tomato and added to soups, stews, etc.
In medicinal use, the juice of the berries is used as eye drops.
These plants have a high pectin content. Another characteristic is that they tend to have a coating of varying degrees of sticky juice (honeydew), especially on the green side outside the skin.
Tomatillo berries contain several chemical compounds, including:
– Vitamin C: Tomatillo is a good source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that contributes to the health of the immune system and plays a key role in the production of collagen.
– Dietary fiber: Tomatillo is rich in fiber, which is important for intestinal regularity and for maintaining a healthy digestive system.
– Malic acid: This organic acid is responsible for the characteristic sour taste of tomatillos. Malic acid is involved in energy metabolism and may have benefits for cardiovascular health.
– Phytosterols: Phytosterols are cholesterol-like plant compounds found in various plants. They are known for their potential beneficial effect on heart health.
– Alkaloids: Tomatillos also contain alkaloids such as solanine, which is a toxic compound found in some plants of the Solanaceae family. However, the solanine content in tomatillos is usually very low and rarely causes health problems when consumed in moderate amounts.
– Flavonoids: Tomatillos contain several flavonoids, such as quercetin and rutin, which are natural antioxidants associated with several health benefits, including protection against inflammation and potential anticancer effect.
It’s important to note that tomatillos are typically eaten cooked or cooked, as the heat can help reduce solanine levels and improve food digestibility.
Method of Preparation –
Physalis philadelphica fruits can be kept for up to a year if picked before they are fully ripe and left in their calyx.
Ripe tomatillos will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks. They keep longer with the peel removed and the fruit refrigerated in sealed plastic bags. They can also be frozen whole or cut into slices.
The purple and red fruit cultivars have a slightly sweet taste unlike the green and yellow cultivars, and are therefore somewhat more suitable for use as fruit for the preparation of jams and preserves.
Tomatillos can be harvested in different stages of ripeness. For salsa verde, harvesting can be anticipated when the fruit is sour with a light flavor. Tomatillos can be harvested later when the fruit is less acidic for a sweeter flavor. These fruits have various uses in stews, soups, salads, curries, stir-fries, baking, cooking with meats, jams and desserts.
Tomatillos are a key ingredient in fresh and cooked Mexican and Central American green salsas. The green color and tart flavor are the main culinary contributions of the fruit.
Tomatillos can also be dried to bring out the sweetness of the fruit in a similar way to dried cranberries, with a hint of tomato flavor. The flavor of the tomatillo is used to blend the flavors of Latin American dishes with those of Europe and North America.
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– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
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– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.