¿Como se dice tomatillo en español?

I have a mystery, a small one that should be simple, but it’s turning out to be harder than I thought.

I was looking through a recipe from an Mexican food blog (Mexico En Mi Cocina) that has both English and Spanish. In particular I was looking at the ingredients for the salsa for Tacos Tlaquepaque. The first item was:

500 gramos de tomate verde

So what’s the mystery? This is simple. Both Google Translate and I would say this is asking for green tomatoes.

BUT, that’s not right! The human English translation (the author of the recipe) asks for:

1 pound tomatillo

Now I’m not confused because, as a norteamericano I can’t deal with metric, or that 17.6 ounces is not a pound.

No, isn’t a tomatillo a tomatillo in Spanish? Apparently not. Now I’ve made lots of recipes with tomatillos. I’ve bought them at the grocery store. I’ve even grown them in the garden. So naturally I assume tomatillo was a Spanish word that’s been imported into English directly since it’s so common, at least among fans, or especially cooks, of Mexican food.

There are words, widely used in English speaking countries that just are what they are in Spanish, there is no translation: tortilla, enchilada, jalapeño (although usually without the ñ, but not a big deal); or from Spain: gazpacho or paella, what else could these be. OTOH, a rather common word, salsa actually does have a translation that I suspect many people don’t know, sauce, or even gravy for meat, or dressing for salad. Sheesh, I always thought it was just salsa. Fewer people might know salsa verde is ‘green sauce’ (maybe even less, salso rojo is ‘red sauce’); salsa is just salsa.

Now my live Spanish teacher (instead of my computer teacher) who lives in Mexico gave us a little tidbit that tomato is not tomate (as in most translations) but jitomate. She explained that jitomate is the red or ripe tomate and tomate is something else (I thought I heard it was the plant, in Spanish the plant and the fruit it bears are sometimes different). Fine, looking at some online photos for Mexican oriented grocery stores in Omaha, yep, that’s how nice red/ripe tomatoes get labeled.

So could it be that tomatillo is NOT tomatillo in Mexico, but maybe is tomatillo elsewhere? But Wikipedia says: “Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era“. So why would a Mexican native write in a recipe tomate verde but translate that as tomatillo?

So, a lot of searching and not much answer. But this is what I found.

Much to my surprise the Spanish dictionary I use for best answewrs doesn’t even have tomatillo at all. And even moreas surprising, the authoritative source, La Real Academia Española and its Diccionario de la lengua Española doesn’t have tomatillo. Is it possible this is actual an English word?

So I went to Wiktionary to get the etymology and it says ” From tomate +‎ -illo, from Classical Nahuatl tomatl. “, or the -illo diminutive of tomate, which usually just implies “little”. Not much help as I’ve encountered -illo frequently enough (as in tortilla, where it switches to -illa, but it’s the diminutive of torta which is feminine).

And Wikipedia claims this ” In Spanish, it is called tomate de cáscara, tomate de fresadilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde (green tomato), tomatillo (Mexico; this term means “little tomato” elsewhere), miltomate (Mexico, Guatemala), farolito, or simply tomate (in which case the tomato is called jitomate from Nahuatl xitomatl) “.  Huh, big help. The phrasing in Wikipedia is a bit unclear, to me, but seems to imply tomate verde is not used in Mexico (and instead tomatillo is), BUT I can’t get the answer.

So maybe the author of this recipe just likes tomate verde? Maybe because English has appropriate tomatillo now it gets called something else elsewhere?

For me,  miltomate  or tomate de cáscara  would be fine, but my southern roots and a famous dish, fried green tomatoes (even the name of a movie) makes me resist tomate verde.

So now the new question is, will this consistently be the name used in recipes written in Mexico? A future adventure.





A weed by any other name is …

When I was in China I’d ask my hosts to tell me the name of the vegetable we were eating. My hosts (software engineers) were reasonably fluent in English but often were unable to supply a name. Eventually one said the vegetable was like a weed that grew wild along the roadside and he didn’t think there was a name in English. That said it probably doesn’t matter whether it has an English name as I’ll never see that vegetable again.

My original idea for this post was to discuss a challenging source I’ve been investigated, but I’ll delay most of that to another day. I’m slowly grinding through the source attempting to decide whether the terms, although clearly Spanish, actually apply to Spain, or whether one would ever see these terms in Spain (if not, until I get interested in some hike in South America I don’t care).

On a previous iteration of this project I simply searched for whatever list of Spainish food terms I could find and merged them together (manually) losing some of the identity of the source. Eventually my list began to have lots of contradictions and was messy. Sure it seemed pollo meant the same thing in all Spanish speaking countries but plenty of other words had multiple meanings. One particular list (now only a vague memory) had lots of vegetables growing wild along the road and their names had no English translation (as per my anecdote in China). So it was difficult to decide what they were. That list became a mess and I discarded it, remembering the lesson to be more careful with sources when I restarted this project a few years later.

So, long story short, I just spent about 30 minutes trying to track this one down (one of many as I’m just on second page with words beginning with A). It comes from Glosario de los alimentos (which I’ll be discussing again). Below are side-by-side Spanish and Google Translate English.

achupalla achupalla

It’s not unusual that Google doesn’t recognize this term. The online Oxford Spanish dictionary didn’t either. Only the Real Academia Española Diccionario de la lengua española, the most authoritative source dictionary of Spanish language had anything. Doing Google Translate on DLE pages isn’t very clear so I rarely use it, as in the example below (some strange HTML that confuses Google):


1. f. Planta de América del Sur, de la familia de las bromeliáceas, de tallos gruesos, escamosos y retorcidos, hojas alternas, envainadoras y espinosas por los bordes, flores en espiga y fruto en caja. De sus tallos se hace una bebida refrescante.


1. f. Plant from South America, from the family from the bromeliads, from stems thick, scaly Y twisted, leaves alternate, sheathing machines Y thorny by the borders, flowers in spike Y fruit in box. From their stems HE does a drink refreshing.

It turns out bromeliads may be important clue later. Meanwhile the Glosario had a lengthy definition of achupalla which I break down into separate rows in the side-by-side table for easier comparison, starting with:

Fruta tropical originaria de América, de pulpa suculenta y fragante Tropical fruit native to America, succulent and fragrant pulp.

It continues with more description (my comments):

Tiene forma de piña o fruto del pino, es de tamaño grande, con hojas duras en su parte superior, de piel o cáscara leñosa y rugosa. It is shaped like a pineapple or pine fruit, it is large in size, with hard leaves on its upper part, skin or a woody and rough shell.

Why say it is shaped like a piña if it just is one? What is a fruto del pino since pino is ‘pine’ and probably not a typo of piña?

Sirve de ingrediente de recetas de platos agridulces y es excelente para acompañar carne de cerdo o pato. También se lo emplea en ensaladas, en especial en la de camarón o gamba y en la de pollo. It serves as an ingredient in recipes for sweet and sour dishes and is excellent to accompany pork or duck. It is also used in salads, especially shrimp or prawn and chicken.
Es apropiada, además, para elaborar refrescos o tragos, con o sin alcohol, postres y pastelería.
Se consume y utiliza fresca o en conserva.
La pulpa es muy aromática y de sabor dulce.
Las achupallas pequeñas suelen tener un sabor más delicado que las grandes.
It is also appropriate for making drinks or drinks, with or without alcohol, desserts and pastries.
It is consumed and used fresh or canned.
The pulp is very aromatic and has a sweet flavor.
Small achupallas tend to have a more delicate flavor than large ones.
La piña baby tiene las propiedades gustativas de la piña tropical, corregidas y aumentadas.
La fruta está madura cuando cambia el color de la cáscara del verde al amarillo en la base de la misma.
The baby pineapple has the taste properties of tropical pineapple, corrected and increased.
The fruit is ripe when the color of the green to yellow shell changes at the base of the shell.What is a baby pineapple?
Las piñas son frutas no climatéricas, por lo que se deben cosechar cuando estén listas para consumirse, ya que no maduran después de su recolección. Pineapples are non-climacteric fruits, so they must be harvested when they are ready to be consumed, since they do not ripen after harvesting.

At this point the description (remember this is a definition of achupalla  not a translation) is sounding a lot like this is just pineapple, BUT, why wouldn’t this be in the various online translation dictionaries. They supply piña (note this word is used in the definition) or ananá, which is used in Argentina and Uruguay. Here’s a bit more of the definition:

Un contenido mínimo de sólidos solubles de 12% y una acidez máxima del 1% asegurarán un sabor mínimo aceptable a los consumidores.
Su contenido de agua es alto.
A minimum content of soluble solids of 12% and a maximum acidity of 1% will ensure a minimum acceptable taste to consumers.
Its water content is high.
Destaca su aporte de hidratos de carbono y de bromelina, una enzima que ayuda a la digestión de las proteínas. Highlights its contribution of carbohydrates and bromelain, an enzyme that helps the digestion of proteins.

Note the link I added for bromelain. The Wikipedia article describes a substance derived from pineapple.

Searching just for:

what is achupalla Plant from South America, from the family from the bromeliads

produced some interesting results. This article is a long description of the botanical naming of some possible candidate plants:

In Ecuador, Puya gummifera , known as “achupalla”, is the Andean bear’s favorite food and its stems are fed to pigs and “cuys” (guinea pigs), as recorded in W.H. Camp 5198 for Azuay province

So my next search on “what is Puya achupalla” produced several results but particularly a hit in the Spanish language version of Wikipedia (which has been useful in the past for difficult-to-translate items). Actually it was a disambiguation page which Google Translates to English as:

The term achupalla can refer to:

Several plants native to Central America and South America of the bromeliaceae family , including:

  • Ananas comosus , pineapple or pineapple, a perennial plant with edible fruit;

  • Fascicularia bicolor , a species native to Chile with which hats are made;

  • Guzmania candelabrum , native of Ecuador and Colombia (see Guzmania );

  • Any species of Puya , in Colombia and Ecuador especially Puya furfuracea and in Peru Puya longistyla or Puya ferruginea .

  • In Chile, they are also known as the apium Eryngium paniculatum and the iridácea Libertia sessiliflora .

So, we’ve looped around. This is now saying achupalla can be scientific name Ananas comosus or plain old pineapple. But we’ve still got this bit of the definition to deal with:

La piña baby tiene las propiedades gustativas de la piña tropical, corregidas y aumentadas. The baby pineapple has the taste properties of tropical pineapple, corrected and increased.

Now is piña baby some alternate to achupalla? Or does ‘baby’ perhaps just mean immature/young. Because some distinction is being made with la piña tropical which is most likely to be the standard commercial pineapple.

And there is this:

Achupalla, a stunning bromeliad, Puya weberbaueri at Machu Picchu

So is the mysterious reference to Puya gummifera and the genus Puya a misleading wild goose chase? Is this just ordinary pineapple or perhaps a wild version (from Peru) that is related to cultivated pineapple?

Why is this term in this glosario? Will it ever be relevant?

Is achupalla a clue this glossary is not specific to Spain? (spoiler for next post, there are lots of clues many of the terms in the glossary are for the Western Hemisphere, not Spain).

Will I ever know what achupalla is?