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What is a substitute for tomatillos in salsa verde?

Quick Answer

There are a few good substitutes for tomatillos in salsa verde recipes. The most common options are:

  • Green tomatoes – Probably the best substitute in terms of flavor and texture. Green tomatoes have a similar tart and tangy taste.
  • Tomatoes + lime – Combining red ripe tomatoes with lime juice can provide some of the tanginess of tomatillos.
  • Tomatillos in adobo sauce – Canned tomatillos in a sauce work well for convenience. Drain and rinse before using.
  • Tomato sauce – While it doesn’t provide the same flavor, tomato sauce adds thickness and body to salsa verde.
  • Tomatillo sauce – Pre-made tomatillo salsa is a quick shortcut for homemade salsa verde.

When substituting, you may need to adjust other ingredients in the salsa verde recipe such as garlic, onions, jalapenos, cilantro, and seasonings until you achieve the desired flavor. Start with smaller amounts of substitutes and add more as needed.

What Are Tomatillos?

Tomatillos are a staple ingredient in many Mexican and Tex-Mex style salsas and sauces. Here are some key facts about tomatillos:

  • Tomatillos are a small green fruit that grow in a paper-like husk. They are sometimes called “Mexican husk tomatoes”.
  • Raw tomatillos have a tart, citrusy, and herbal flavor. When cooked, they develop a deeper, earthier taste.
  • While tomatillos look like green tomatoes, they are not as sweet and have a lower acidity.
  • Common uses for tomatillos include salsa verde, enchilada sauce, posole, and can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled or fried.
  • When the husk is removed, look for tomatillos that are firm with an intact skin. Avoid mushy or bruised fruit.

So in recipes like salsa verde, tomatillos provide a bright, tangy flavor along with a pulp-like texture. Their unique taste comes from acids like malic acid and citric acid.

Why Substitute for Tomatillos?

There are a few reasons you may need to use a replacement for tomatillos in your recipes:

  • Tomatillos are not available – Depending on your location, fresh tomatillos may be hard to find or expensive out of season.
  • You don’t like their flavor – Some people find the tangy, acidic taste of tomatillos unpleasant.
  • Allergic reaction – Rarely, an allergy to tomatillos can occur.
  • Want to use up ingredients – If you have a lot of green tomatoes or ripe tomatoes, substituting can help use up what you have on hand.
  • Prefer a milder salsa – Substitutes like green tomatoes result in a salsa verde that is less tart.

Luckily there are a number of ingredients that can mimic some of the qualities of tomatillos like tartness, texture, color and flavor.

Substitutes for Tomatillos in Salsa Verde

Here is more detail on the best swaps to use in place of tomatillos when making salsa verde:

Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes are one of the closest replacements for tomatillos in terms of appearance, texture, and flavor.

  • Unripe green tomatoes have a tangy, tart taste that provides a similar sour flavor to tomatillos.
  • They have a firm flesh and pulp-like insides like tomatillos.
  • Green tomatoes are often easier to find than tomatillos in grocery stores.
  • For the best results, use firm, unripened green tomatoes rather than overripe ones starting to turn red.
  • You’ll need about 3/4 pound of green tomatoes for every 1 pound of tomatillos called for.

The main difference with green tomatoes is they tend to be less acidic, so you may want to add a squeeze of lime juice to increase tartness. Overall, this is the closest raw substitute for tomatillos in salsa verde.

Tomatoes Combined with Lime Juice

Since tomatillos have a lower sugar content and higher acidity than tomatoes, combining tomatoes with lime juice helps recreate some of their tangy flavor.

  • Use about 3/4 pound ripe red tomatoes for every 1 pound of tomatillos.
  • After chopping the tomatoes, stir in the juice from 1 lime into the salsa verde.
  • Let it sit for 10-15 minutes so the juice permeates the tomatoes.
  • Add more lime juice to taste if needed to reach desired tartness.

The downside of this method is the texture will be softer without the firm flesh of tomatillos. But in terms of replicating the taste, the tomato-lime combo works well.

Tomatillos in Adobo Sauce

Canned tomatillos packed in a sauce are a convenient substitute when fresh tomatillos are not an option. Popular brands like La Costena sell whole tomatillos in a tangy adobo sauce.

  • Drain and rinse the canned tomatillos before use to remove excess sauce.
  • Chop the tomatillos and add to your salsa verde recipe as you normally would.
  • You may need to adjust seasonings since the canned tomatillos will already have flavors like garlic, onion, oregano.
  • The texture of canned is softer than fresh. But the convenience makes this a good shortcut.

One 15 ounce can typically replaces about 1/2 pound of fresh tomatillos.

Tomato Sauce

Plain tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes are an option for creating the body and thickness that tomatillos provide in salsa verde.

  • Use an 8 ounce can or 1 cup of tomato sauce for every 1 pound of tomatillos.
  • To add some tanginess, stir in a tablespoon of lime or lemon juice.
  • Season with extra cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, onion to help boost flavor.
  • The tomato sauce version will have a deeper red hue versus the green color of tomatillos.

Tomato sauce doesn’t mimic the tartness or exact texture of tomatillos. But it can work nicely when you want a smooth, thick salsa verde.

Tomatillo Sauce

Pre-made tomatillo sauce or salsa lets you skip chopping the tomatillos yourself. Look for brands like Frontera, Herdez, or La Victoria.

  • Use about 1/2 cup of prepared tomatillo sauce for every 1 pound of tomatillos.
  • You can add less at first and increase to taste.
  • Jarred tomatillo sauce tends to be spicier than homemade, so you may need to adjust other seasonings.
  • This shortcut version will have a consistent texture and nice tart flavor.

Check the ingredients on prepared salsa to make sure it primarily contains tomatillos rather than just green chiles or tomatoes.

How to Adjust Salsa Verde with Substitutes

When swapping in alternatives for tomatillos, you’ll need to tweak the salsa verde recipe to get the right flavor. Here are some tips:

  • Add ingredients gradually – Start with 3/4 of the recommended amount of any substitute initially. You can always add more.
  • Boost tangy flavors – If your substitute isn’t acidic enough, add a squirt of lime or lemon juice. Vinegars also enhance tartness.
  • Increase herbs – Extra cilantro, epazote, oregano, garlic can help mimic tomatillo flavor.
  • Spice it up – Add a pinch more cayenne, jalapeno, or other chiles to increase heat if needed.
  • Check seasonings – Taste and adjust salt, spices, and tang until you achieve the desired salsa verde flavor.
  • Change the color – Tomatillos make salsa verde have a nice light green color. Substitutes may alter the hue.

The key is tasting the salsa verde as you go until it has a good balance of flavors. The substitute ingredients will likely require more tweaks compared to using tomatillos.

Tomatillo Substitute Recipes

To give you a better idea of amounts to use, here are some example salsa verde recipes using common tomatillo substitutes:

Salsa Verde with Green Tomatoes

  • 3/4 pound green tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt to taste

Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well combined but still chunky. Taste and add more lime, salt, or cayenne powder as desired.

Salsa Verde with Tomatoes and Lime Juice

  • 3/4 pound tomatoes, chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 serrano chile, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Stir together all ingredients in a bowl. Allow flavors to blend for 10-15 minutes before serving. Adds extra lime juice if needed.

Easy Tomatillo Salsa Verde

  • 1 15 oz can tomatillos, drained and rinsed
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds removed
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • Pinch of Cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste

Pulse canned tomatillos, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro, and spices in a food processor. Add salt to taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use green tomatoes instead of tomatillos?

Yes, green unripe tomatoes are one of the best substitutes for tomatillos in salsa verde. They have a similar tart, tangy taste and firm texture. Use about 3/4 pound of green tomatoes for every 1 pound of tomatillos.

Do tomatillos and tomatoes taste the same?

No, tomatillos have distinct differences from tomatoes. Tomatillos are more tart and acidic with a tangy, citrusy flavor. Tomatoes are richer, sweeter, and less sour. Tomatillos also have a firmer texture than juicy tomatoes.

What’s a good substitute for tomatillo sauce?

For tomatillo sauce, you can substitute jarred salsa verde, green tomato sauce, or a mix of tomato sauce with lime juice. Adding extra herbs and seasonings can help mimic the flavor of tomatillo sauce.

Can you make salsa verde without tomatillos?

Yes, there are several ways to make tasty salsa verde without tomatillos. Some options are using green tomatoes, underripe red tomatoes plus lime juice, or tomatillo sauce from a jar. You’ll need to adjust other ingredients like garlic, cilantro, and chiles.

Can I use regular tomatoes instead of tomatillos in salsa?

Regular red tomatoes can work but won’t provide the same tart, tangy flavor. To use tomatoes instead of tomatillos, combine them with lime or lemon juice to add acidity. Also boost herbs like cilantro and spice from chiles to compensate for the tomatillo flavor.


While tomatillos are ideal for authentic salsa verde, there are many good alternatives if you don’t have them on hand. Green tomatoes, underripe tomatoes plus lime juice, or jarred tomatillo salsa can substitute for tomatillos in recipes. Just adjust other seasonings as needed to achieve the right tangy flavor profile. With a few tweaks, you can make tasty salsa verde with or without tomatillos.