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Aug 22, 2010 09:56 AM

Tomatillo or ground cherry - what's the difference?

I'm growing these things in my garden and I'm not sure if they're tomatillos or ground cherries (or maybe there's no difference). They came up as volunteers this spring, descendents of the plants I got from a friend last year, so I don't know what it said on the seed packet.

The fruit, which comes neatly packaged in a cute papery lantern-husk, is sweet enough to eat as is, once it's fully ripe. When they're ripe, they fall off the plant onto the ground. I know that tomatillos are similar but I've never eaten a fresh one so I don't know what they taste like. And if they are tomatillos, at what point do you use them to make salsa? Should they be fully ripe or slightly underripe so they're still tart?

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  1. Sounds like a ground cherry. Tomatillos are green, not sweet, and bigger (ground cherries are about the size of cherries when they're full grown, and yellow or orange). A raw tomatillo, to me anyway, tastes poisonous and disgusting, similar to biting into a raw green tomato.

    4 Replies
    1. re: jvanderh

      That's actually what I thought. But for some reason when I google information about the plant, they seem to all be the same family and the difference between the two aren't clear. Thanks.

      1. re: Nyleve

        They are also called gooseberries or, in Hawaii, Poha berries. Growing up in HI, Poha berries were a really special treat that we'd come across once in a while when hiking or someone would make poha berry preserves from pohas they harvested from the wild.

        Tomatillos are larger and when you remove the husk, they are covered in a very sticky sap.

      2. re: jvanderh

        I can assure you they are not poisonous. They are used raw fairly often in salsas.

        1. re: chefj

          I'm aware that they're not poisonous. I wouldn't have bitten into one if they were. I think they taste horrific when raw, but to each his own.

      3. those are cute!

        i'd never heard of ground cherries before. i bet that they'd make a nice salsa for a pork roast?

        looks like folks bake them up in pies.

        1. I remember my great-uncle having these when we were kids. I was always charmed by them with the little paper husks.

          Now I see them at our farmers market and recently at our coop.

          I would just eat them as a snack. But I have heard of people making kind of a cream pie with them. LIke a banana cream pie. They have a very mild taste.

          1. Ok thanks all - so tomatillos are something else, but similar looking. These are definitely the kind of thing you just sort of eat while you're standing around in the garden. The little paper lanterns are definitely adorable and they taste nice but I couldn't imagine making a pie or anything with them. The taste is really sort of nothingy. In a good way, for sure, but not very distinctive. Interesting.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Nyleve

              nyleve, is the flavor description in this pie-making account not really true of your particular ground cherries -- "".... no acidity to them, and the flavor is .... the perfect midpoint between a pina colada and a butterscotch candy, with a slight tomato undertone""?

              from this account:

              >>>>""‚ÄčI baked pie.

              It takes an hour to peel the husks from a big bag of ground cherries, the perfect amount of time for your pie pastry to chill while you make a phone call to an old friend in another state. An 8-inch pie takes 2 pounds of fruit, mixed with 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons of flour, and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. No spices, no lemon juice, nothing to distract from the flavor of the fruit. The Tonnemakers' ground cherries have no acidity to them, and the flavor is -- swear to god -- the perfect midpoint between a pina colada and a butterscotch candy, with a slight tomato undertone. (In fact, if you did want to get creative, a tablespoon or two of dark rum might be in order) The only thing the pie needs is a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.""<<<<

              1. re: alkapal

                Hmmmmm. I didn't taste pina colada or butterscotch in the ones I've tried. No caramelly taste, to me.

                Good for snacking on. But I wouldn't rhapsodize about them to that extent.

                Maybe I will have to try this year's crop and see.

            2. Bought some ground cherries (much smaller than tomatillos) at the farmers market today. They taste like a cross between a mango and a pineapple -- simply delicious.

              2 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca

                Well the damn things came up in my garden again this year. Seems once you've planted them you never have to do it again - they just volunteer. Anyway, I gathered up all the sprouts and lined them up in a row like proper plants and now I have a whole row of ground cherries growing like mad. Trouble is they drop their fruit as soon as it's ripe so you really have to hunt for them. Tasty little things but really sort of a beside-the-point fruit. I have a friend who has so many that she freezes them to use all year. Unfortunately no dish is safe from her inclusion of ground cherries and let me tell you there are places where they should not go. I prefer to just eat them in the garden and be done with it.

                Oh and by the way, this year I planted one tomatillo plant and the thing is a total monster but absolutely not a single fruit on it. I'm considering ripping it out because it's murdering all its neighbours.

                1. re: Nyleve

                  Tomatillos are self-incompatible. They need two or more plants to pollinate.