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7 Substitutes For Tomatillos In Cooking

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Fresh tomatillos on an isolated background

Tomatillos are a small green fruit from the same family as the tomato. They have a vegetal flavor that combines punchy sweet and tart taste. A mouthful of tomatillo provides bright citrus-like notes with a dry and dense texture.

If you’ve got no tomatillos, then you can either leave them out or use a replacement. We’ve hand-picked a selection of tomatillo substitutes for any application. Keep reading to find one that’s right for your recipe.

How can I replace fresh tomatillos in cooking?

If you need a tomatillo substitute then use unripe green tomatoes, canned tomatillos, or green bell peppers. These ingredients won’t make a perfect match, but in most recipes, they won’t be out of place either.   

1. Unripe green tomatoes

Unripe tomatoes will have a firmer, crunchy, less juicy texture than ripened ones. This makes them a good tomatillo alternative. A splash of lime juice will add sour flavor, excellent for Mexican dishes.

Enchiladas, salsa, tacos, migas or chilaquiles are a great match for the tomato and lime combination. Don’t forget the crumbled cotija!

Even underripe tomatoes will usually have a little extra sweetness than a tomatillo. This isn’t usually a deal-breaker in most recipes.

Although any tomato variety can be used, it’s best to check their flavor before using them. If you get the choice, use a green tomato that has plenty of tartness.  

2. Canned Tomatillos

In some recipes, canned or jarred tomatillos will make a useful replacement for fresh tomatillos. As they’re pre-cooked, you won’t get the same firm texture and fresh flavor. In food like salsa verde, where the ingredients are blended, this won’t be a problem.

Recipes like soup, chili beans, and stew where the ingredients are cooked until soft, all benefit from canned tomatillos. As they are already cooked, you can add them towards the end of the recipe.

Pick up a can of tomatillos at any well-stocked grocery store in the Hispanic section or buy online from a variety of sellers. Crushed or diced will both work fine in most cooking applications.

3. Green bell peppers

If you need to add some vibrant green color to your food then try green bell peppers (aka capsicum). Food like soups and salads are possibilities or dice them finely and use as a topping on nachos. They’re delicious sprinkled into tortillas.

Green pepper has a similar texture to a tomatillo, however, it’s a much milder tasting ingredient. We suggest adding a squeeze of lemon juice or a small amount of tamarind paste to balance the dish.

Got no bell peppers? Check out these alternatives to capsicum for your next recipe.  

Tomatillo Substitutes Infographic

4. Cherry tomatoes

If you’re okay with some added sweetness and a softer texture, then use cherry tomatoes. They’re available year-round from most supermarkets.

Cherry tomatoes have concentrated flavor and are juicy, so they’re not a close comparison with tomatillos. You can still use them as a substitute in most recipes, only you won’t get the same authentic flavor.

5. Gooseberries

Gooseberries are small, green fruits that look a lot like tomatillos. These berries are zesty and tart, perfect for adding acidity to any dish.

Although not always easy to find, if they’re in season try your supermarket or local farmer’s markets. Some specialty online greengrocers can ship these fruits to your door.  

6. Chilis

A mild green chili could be used as a backup option if you’re in a pinch. Make sure it isn’t a spicy hot variety or you’ll throw out the balance of the dish.

If you’re making authentic Mexican salsa, ditch the tomatillos and try using red chilis. They’ll add a slightly sweet, smoky taste to your next salsa or dip. If you only have a hot variety then ensure every seed is discarded to reduce its heat.  

7. Green salsa verde

In a hurry and don’t want to spend time prepping ingredients? A quick and easy solution is to buy a jar of green salsa verde. This product is often made using tomatillos so you get a similar ingredient for adding to Mexican cuisine.

A bowl of salsa verde next to fresh tomatillos and various ingredients
A key ingredient in salsa verde is the tomatillo.

Related reading:
What can I use as a salsa verde substitute?
What are the best methods for reheating tamales?
What’s the difference between the taco and burrito?
What can I use to replace epazote?

Commonly asked questions

Can I use canned tomatillos instead of fresh ones?

Canned and fresh tomatillos can be used interchangeably in many recipes, although the texture of the canned ones will be softer. Remember to drain canned tomatillos or you’ll get a watery recipe.  

Where can I buy canned tomatillos?

Depending on where you live, canned tomatillos can usually be found in the canned vegetable section of the supermarket. Otherwise, try checking the Latino aisle if your store has one. Fresh tomatillos will be in the fruit and vegetable section if they’re in season.

Can green tomatoes be used instead of tomatillos?

Green tomatoes are suitable for replacing tomatillos in most Mexican recipes. They offer a similar color and a firm texture, although tomatoes usually have a little extra sweetness. 

Holding a pile of tomatillos
Tomatillos have a husk which is inedible.

Fast facts about tomatillos

  • Their scientific name is Physalis philadelphica; they are a part of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family which includes potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes.
  • Alternative names for the tomatillo include Mexican husk tomatoes or Mexican ground cherries.
  • They were originally grown by the Aztecs in Mexico.
  • The tomatillo fruit is small and can come in a range of colors like green, red, purple, or yellow.
  • Tomatillos are surrounded by a papery inedible husk, a lot like a Cape Gooseberry.

Final words

Tomatillos aren’t always easy to find if they’re out of season or your local store doesn’t range them. If you’re looking for different options then go for unripe green tomatoes, canned tomatillos, or green bell peppers. While they all have unique characteristics, you’ll be pleased to know they won’t be out of place used as a substitute.

For a quick solution, you may want to buy salsa verde already made and squeeze it over or into your food. Keep in mind that this sauce will have extra ingredients like parsley or basil so the flavor profile will be different.