The tomatillo is often an underused fruit that provides numerous health benefits. The scientific name is Pysalis philadelphica Lam, and its use dates back to the Aztecs. Tomatillos are related to tomatoes, and, like tomatoes, they are primarily used as vegetables. They are green and turn yellow as they ripen, but this is one fruit that most people prefer to eat before it is fully ripe. Green tomatillos are firm and acidic, and they feature heavily in Mexican, Latin American and Texan cuisine. In fact, Texas is the main supplier of tomatillos in the United States.
The health benefits of tomatillos come from their high vitamin C levels. A one-half cup serving of tomatillos provides 15 percent of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin C. This water-soluble vitamin need to be replenished daily and is needed to maintain a strong immune system to stave off cold and flu.
The vitamin K, lycopene, potassium, flavonoids and folate in tomatillos are believed to help prevent cancer. Scientific researchers, led by Professor Choi and other members at the University of Illinois in Chicago, successfully isolated and removed four withanolides: ixocarpalactone A (IxoA), ixocarpalactone B, philadelphicalactone B and withaphysacarpin. The researchers discovered that ixocarpalactone A has anti-cancer properties that fight against colon cancer and prevent the development of hepatoma cells. This is just further evidence that tomatillos benefit health by preventing the onset of certain cancers.
Not only do tomatillos provide significant health benefits, they are a snack low in fat and calories. A single serving is only 20 calories and contains half a gram of fat. There is no saturated fat or cholesterol in tomatillos, so they are heart healthy. The tangy taste of tomatillos makes them ideal for salsas or garnishes. They also contain a substance similar to pectin that helps bind sauces together.
Choosing fresh tomatillos will preserve their many health benefits. Canned tomatillos, however, do work best in sauces. Tomatillos are sold in their husks, which should be light brown and tight against the fruit. The tomatillo itself should be green and firm. Obviously, try to avoid buying bruised or blemished tomatillos. Tomatillos are in season between the early summer and late fall, but they can be found year-round. Fresh tomatillos should remain in their husks until they are needed, and storing them in a paper bag in the refrigerator can keep them fresh for two weeks. Make sure to wash the fruit before eating it, and enjoy adding this healthy ingredient to different recipes.