What Are the Health Benefits of Tomatillos?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on June 09, 2024
4 min read

Tomatillos look like a smaller version of tomatoes, but they’re totally different, although they're both technically classified as fruits. Here, we look at some of their health benefits.

Tomatillos belong to the nightshade family, along with other vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. The botanical name for tomatillos is Physalis philadelphica, and they’re also known as Mexican husk tomatoes or husk cherries.

They are native to Mexico and are a staple in many Mexican dishes, but they are widely produced all around the world for their exquisite flavor.

As the tomatillo plant grows, it forms a light brown husk that breaks off when it ripens, although they are found in a variety of colors, like yellow, green, and purple. They're commonly used in several Central and South American dishes for their tangy, citrus flavor that's slightly acidic.

Tomatillos are a great source of dietary fiber and are low in fat content. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, niacin, potassium, manganese, and magnesium.

They also contain organic compounds like withanolides and flavonoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, which have many physiological benefits. A 100-gram portion of tomatillo contains:

Energy: 32 calories

Protein: 0.96 grams

Total lipid (fat): 1.02 grams 

Carbohydrate: 5.84 grams

Fiber (dietary): 1.9 grams

Calcium: 7 milligrams

Iron: 0.62 milligrams

Magnesium: 20 milligrams

Potassium: 268 milligrams

Phosphorus: 39 milligrams

Vitamin C: 11.7 milligrams 

Vitamin K: 10.1 micrograms

Choline: 7.6 milligrams

Zinc: 0.22 milligrams

Copper: 0.079 milligrams

Manganese: 0.153 milligrams

Thiamin: 0.044 milligrams

Riboflavin: 0.035 milligrams

Niacin: 1.85 milligrams 

Selenium: 0.5 micrograms

With a host of nutritious ingredients, tomatillos offer several health benefits.

Could support healthy vision. Tomatillos are rich in nutrients that are essential for eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin are natural antioxidants that are present in the retina and protect your eye from environmental damage. They're also a good source of copper, zinc, beta carotene, and vitamins E and C. A combination of these compounds and minerals helps slow down macular deterioration, which is linked with loss of vision in older people.

May reduce the risk of cancer. Tomatillos contain a group of compounds called withanolides that are known for their antioxidant, antitumor, anti-neurodegeneration, and apoptotic activity. Research has shown that these naturally occurring compounds lead to the death of cancer-causing cells (known as apoptosis). Tomatillos are a great addition to a high-antioxidant diet that could aid the prevention of cancer.

May support weight loss. At just 21 calories in a half-cup serving, tomatillos are a great addition to weight loss diets. Due to their high water content, you can eat a lot of tomatillos without taking in many calories. Also, unlike many other condiments, fresh sauces and salsas made with tomatillos contain very little sugar and are a healthy and tasty way to fill your stomach.

May help with arthritis. Withanolides also have anti-inflammatory properties. Natural medicinal systems like Ayurveda use withanolides to treat arthritis. Research has also shown the clinical benefits of withanolides in treating symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Since tomatillos are a good source of withanolides, they could contribute to managing the symptoms of arthritis, although more research needs to be done on this.

Could help control blood sugar. With their rich fiber content, tomatillos are very good for your digestive system, as fiber adds bulk to your food and promotes its movement through the digestive tract. Fiber also helps control the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream which impacts the blood sugar levels. This could help people who have diabetes and need to regulate their glucose and insulin levels.

To make sure you have the best-quality tomatillos, pick them when they're green and firm but when they have filled the husk. If left unpicked for longer, they’ll continue to ripen and become soft. 

Picking them at the right time also means you get the best flavor, as they usually become bland later. If you’re planning to store the tomatillos for a considerable period, you’re in luck, as they can be stored for months in a cool and well-aired place.

The optimum temperature to store them is around 50°F to 60°F with a maximum humidity of around 60%. Avoid putting them into airtight plastic bags and keeping them in the refrigerator for more than two weeks.

Their taste can vary from sour to mild and at times even sweet. Tomatillos are extensively used in the preparation of green chili sauces and salsas in Mexican dishes. Traditionally, the vegetable has been used to make salsa verde and tomatillo avocado salsa. They can be roasted to give a smoky flavor to the dish.

Tomatillos are also enjoyed in stews and moles. They're also gaining increasing popularity in a variety of fusion cooking recipes around the world that look to blend in traditional Latin American flavors, especially in North American dishes.

They give a unique citrus flavor to traditional South American dishes and are not only tasty but also very nutritious. Husk tomatoes are comparatively sweeter than tomatillos. These can be a good addition to your jams, cakes, salads, preserves, and other savory dishes. Keep in mind that you’ll have to remove the husks before using them.

Although eating tomatillos is largely considered safe, odd cases of allergies have been reported. There have also been some rare incidents of serious reactions even in people who don’t have any previous history of tomato allergy.

Since tomatillos belong to the nightshade family, if you’re allergic to other vegetables in this group, like eggplant, you should check with your doctor before eating them. Your doctor can also help you understand the root cause of the allergy and whether it’s safe for you to eat tomatillos.