What’s the Difference Between Green Tomatoes and Tomatillos?

updated Jun 9, 2022
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Tomatillos and green tomatoes come from entirely different plants. Each fruit has its own unique properties in the kitchen.

The easiest way to tell them apart is to note that when a tomatillo is ripe, it remains a small, green fruit, and it grows inside a papery husk called a calyx. On the other hand, a green tomato is the unripe fruit of any variety of tomato plant. The fruit does not grown inside a papery husk, and it can be large or small and picked at any time throughout the summer or fall.

In a Nutshell: Tomatillos vs. Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes and tomatillos are different in flavor and usages as well, so we do not recommend substituting one for the other. Tomatillos also tend to be juicier and not as firm as green tomatoes, so they are quite different in texture. Stick to finding the right one for your recipe.


  • Grow inside an inedible paper husk.
  • Small and uniform in size.
  • The ripened fruit inside the husk is slightly tacky to the touch.
  • The ripe fruit is most often seen in U.S. grocery stores as green, but it can be yellow or purple as well.

Green Tomatoes:

  • The unripe fruit of any variety of tomato.
  • Can be any size.
  • Always green.

What Are Tomatillos?

Tomatillos are small, firm bright-green fruits (yes, fruits!) about the size of a golf ball and native to Mexico, and are sometimes called Mexican green tomatoes or jamberries.

Although they are mainly used in savory applications, you can use them on the sweet side of things like in this spiced chocolate cake with sweet tomatillo sauce.

They grow inside a papery husk that should be peeled away and discarded before cooking. The surface of the fruit is coated in a slightly tacky residue and is easily washed off with a little warm water before proceeding with a recipe.

They’re most often used in salsas and sauces, although they can also be eaten raw and can be found year-round, most often in Latin American grocery stores.

(Image credit: David P. Smith)

What Does a Tomatillo Taste Like?

Tomatillos have an acidic, bright, tart almost citrus flavor and can be used raw or cooked. They are the core ingredient in salsa verde commonly served in Mexican restaurants.

When used raw, tomatillos retain their bright green color and sharp flavor. To tone it down a bit, slice the fruits in half and roast them on a baking sheet. The cooking process will mute the color and the flavor a bit, but it will still pack plenty of punch.

How to Use Tomatillos

Common in Mexican cuisine, tomatillos (and the sauces and salsas made from them) pair well with anything from tacos to grilled salmon to pork tenderloin. Or go fusion and try tomatillos in this smoky tomatillo shakshuka recipe.

Combine them with chilies, garlic, cilantro, and lime to add a little heat and amp up the citrus and herbal notes in the fruit. Store the sauce in the fridge, or freeze cubes of it and add it to soups and stews for a quick and easy flavor boost.

What Are Green Tomatoes?

Green tomatoes are simply the firm unripe fruit of any tomato plant. They can be large or small depending the variety of the tomato (although don’t confuse them with a Green Zebra, a variety of tomato that stays green when ripe). Color and firmness are pretty much the only similarity green tomatoes share with tomatillos.

Green tomatoes are often sold in the fall — when cooler temperatures mean the tomatoes don’t get the necessary heat to ripen further and change color — although you can pick green tomatoes off the vine at any time.

What Do Green Tomatoes Taste Like?

Green tomatoes aren’t something you want to sink your teeth into like an apple, although they are firm like one. The taste is neutral leaning toward astringent, although the tartness mellows out with cooking.

How to Use Green Tomatoes

Unlike the fruit in its more mature state, green tomatoes hold their shape when cooking, and aren’t as watery.

They’re usually cooked and most often fried and in the well-known Southern recipe for fried green tomatoes, but that’s hardly the only way to use up this summertime staple. Use them in this recipe for chicken thighs with green tomatoes, basil and ginger or explore the world of pickled tomatoes.

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