Tomatillos and tomatoes are both nutritious fruits that are commonly used in many cuisines. But when it comes to health benefits, which one is better for you? Here is a detailed comparison of the nutritional profiles, potential health benefits, and downsides of tomatillos vs. tomatoes.
What are tomatillos and tomatoes?
Tomatillos and tomatoes belong to the same plant family Solanaceae, but they are different species.
Tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) are small green fruits that are covered by a papery husk. They are sometimes referred to as Mexican husk tomatoes. Raw tomatillos have a tart, citrusy flavor. Tomatillos are a staple ingredient in many Latin American cuisines and are used to make salsas, sauces, and stews.
Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are the familiar round, juicy, red fruits used widely in cuisines around the world. Botanically, tomatoes are classified as a fruit, but they are commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. The flavor of ripe tomatoes is sweet and acidic. There are also green tomato varieties that are tart and less sweet.
How do the basic nutritional profiles of tomatillos and tomatoes compare?
Both tomatillos and tomatoes are low in calories and rich in certain nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium. Here is a comparison of the basic nutritional profile per 100 grams of raw tomatillos vs. raw tomatoes (1):
As you can see from the table, raw tomatillos contain slightly more calories, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein compared to raw tomatoes. The vitamin C content is moderately high in both, with tomatoes providing a little more vitamin C per serving. Tomatillos edge out fresh tomatoes when it comes to potassium and vitamin K content.
What are the potential health benefits of tomatillos?
Some of the top nutrients and compounds found in tomatillos may provide the following potential health benefits:
Antioxidant content – Tomatillos contain several antioxidants including vitamin C, beta-carotene and lutein. These can help reduce oxidative damage and lower inflammation in the body (2).
Support heart health – The fiber and potassium in tomatillos may help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease (3).
Anti-cancer effects – Research shows compounds called withanolides in tomatillos exhibit anti-cancer activities, inhibiting the growth of certain cancer cells (4).
Antimicrobial properties – Tomatillos have antibacterial and antifungal properties that may inhibit the growth of certain harmful pathogens in the body (5).
Prebiotic effects – The fiber content acts as a prebiotic by feeding beneficial gut bacteria, supporting digestive health (6).
Vision health – Lutein and zeaxanthin antioxidants found in tomatillos filter harmful blue light and UV rays, protecting eye health (7).
What are the potential health benefits of tomatoes?
Some of the key nutrients and plant compounds in tomatoes may offer these evidence-based health benefits:
Heart health – The potassium, folate and vitamin C in tomatoes support heart health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and oxidative stress (8).
Anti-cancer benefits – Tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that exhibits anti-cancer activities according to cell studies (9).
Improved blood sugar regulation – The fiber in tomatoes helps slow digestion, stabilizing blood sugar spikes after meals (10).
Gut health – Tomatoes provide prebiotic fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome (11).
Radiant skin – Tomatoes are high in antioxidants like vitamin C and lycopene that fight skin damage caused by UV exposure and pollution (12).
Strong bones – The vitamin K, calcium and magnesium in tomatoes supports bone mineral density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis (13).
Downsides and adverse effects
Tomatillos and tomatoes are generally very healthy and safe to consume for most people. However, there are some downsides and precautions to consider:
Digestive problems – Some people may experience bloating, gas or indigestion from eating green tomatillos raw. Cooking them can make them more digestible.
Nightshade sensitivity – Both belong to the nightshade group of plants, so people with sensitivities may need to avoid them. Nightshades contain alkaloids that can trigger inflammatory issues in sensitive individuals (14).
Pesticide residue – Non-organic tomatoes tend to be heavily treated with pesticides, so it’s best to buy them organic (15). This is less of an issue with tomatillos.
Acid aggravation – The acidic tomatoes may worsen symptoms of acid reflux, gastritis or stomach ulcers in some cases (16).
Blood thinner interaction – Very high intakes of vitamin K rich tomatillos could possibly interfere with blood thinners like Warfarin, but this is unlikely (17).
When comparing the nutritional profiles of tomatillos vs. tomatoes, here are some of the key differences:
– Tomatillos contain 10% more calories and double the carbohydrates and fiber.
– Tomatoes provide slightly more vitamin C and potassium.
– Tomatillos have more vitamin K and protein per serving than tomatoes.
– The main antioxidants in tomatillos include vitamin C, beta-carotene and lutein, while tomatoes are high in lycopene.
– Tomatillos have some unique plant compounds called withanolides that have anti-cancer activities.
So in terms of overall nutrient density, tomatillos seem to edge out tomatoes slightly, with more fiber, protein, vitamin K and unique plant compounds. But tomatoes are still a nutrient-packed choice.
Uses in cooking
Tomatillos and tomatoes have some overlaps and differences when it comes to their culinary uses:
– Tomatillos are tart whereas tomatoes tend to be sweeter in flavor when ripe. This makes them suitable for different types of recipes and preparations.
– Tomatillos are more frequently used raw or lightly cooked to retain their bright, tart flavor. Tomatoes are often cooked for a longer time in sauces, stews and oven roasts to bring out their sweetness.
– Tomatillos are the base for many Mexican and Latin dishes like salsa verde, enchilada sauce, tamales and posole. Tomatoes are used in Italian cuisine, Mediterranean dishes, pizza sauce, chilis and curries.
– When swapping them in recipes, you need to adjust for tomatillos having more tartness and pectin, which makes sauces thicker. Tomatoes create thinner, sweeter sauces.
– For soups and stews, tomatillos hold their shape better during cooking compared to tomatoes which break down more.
– Tomatillos can be eaten raw, but tomatoes are generally preferred for uses like sandwiches, bruschetta and salads.
In most grocery stores, fresh tomatillos tend to cost slightly more per pound than tomatoes. Here are some average prices:
– Tomatillos – $2 to $3 per pound
– Plum tomatoes – $1 to $2 per pound
– Grape or cherry tomatoes – $3 to $4 per pound
– Beefsteak tomatoes – $2 to $3 per pound
However, prices can vary depending on the season and region. Canned and pureed forms of both tend to cost a bit less than their fresh versions. So tomatoes generally have an edge when it comes to affordability, but tomatillos are still reasonably priced for the nutrition they provide.
Tomatillos have some advantages over tomatoes when it comes to their environmental footprint:
– Grow readily – Tomatillos are less prone to diseases and pests, making them easier to grow than tomatoes which require more pesticides.
– Less processing – Husked tomatillos keep longer in storage compared to tomatoes, which often require energy-intensive canning or processing to preserve.
– Less packaging – Tomatillos are typically sold loose rather than in plastic clamshell containers like delicate tomatoes.
– Less waste – With a longer shelf life, tomatillos produce less food waste compared to perishable tomatoes.
So purchasing tomatillos is a more eco-friendly choice. But cherry or grape tomatoes sold loose are better than heavily packaged types. Overall, both tomatoes and tomatillos can be part of an environmentally sustainable plant-based diet.
Verdict: Is one healthier?
When looking at all the factors like nutrition, health benefits, taste and cost, is tomatillo healthier than tomato or vice versa?
Here is a quick summary:
– Tomatillos offer slightly higher amounts of fiber, protein, vitamin K and unique antioxidants.
– Tomatoes contain more vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant linked to anti-cancer and heart benefits.
– Both provide different flavors and culinary uses, so they don’t need to be pitted against each other.
– Incorporating both tomatillos AND tomatoes into your diet will provide you with the widest range of health benefits.
– For environmental sustainability, tomatillos are the better choice over heavily sprayed and packaged tomato varieties.
– Tomato products like sauce and paste tend to be more affordable and convenient for everyday cooking.
So the verdict is that tomatillos and tomatoes both have merits nutritionally and culinarily. Enjoying them regularly provides protective plant nutrients without the need to declare one better than the other across the board. Aim for diversity by mixing up your choice of fruits and vegetables of all colors and types.
Tomatillos and tomatoes have distinct appearances, flavors and nutritional profiles but both provide health benefits. Science shows that a diet high in produce like these can lower disease risk and mortality. Focus on getting a rainbow of veggies into your diet instead of rigidly comparing the merits of tomatillos versus tomatoes. Balance out these green fruits with other colorful whole foods like carrots, leafy greens, berries, citrus, sweet potatoes and squash. This dietary variety will ensure you gain a wide spectrum of antioxidants, fiber and plant compounds for optimal health.