The Q&A Archives: Chinese Lantern vs Tomatillos

Question: I planted Chinese Lanterns to dry this fall and as they grew I found a fruit growing inside, much like a tomato. I couldn't find anything that says it was ediable. Today I was at the store and saw what looked like the Chinese lanterns pod but under the name "Tomatillos." Is this the same plant? Are the CL's fruit edible?

Answer: You're very observant! They are from the same genus, but are different species. A flower part called a "calyx" becomes enlarged as a loose, papery husk. Physalis alkekengi (Chinese lantern) is a perennial plant which is grown for its decorative bright orange, "lanterns." The lantern is actually the calyx which forms around the ripened berry as the loose, papery lantern. It is an ornamental plant, not edible.

Physalis ixocarpa (tomatillo, pronounced tom a teeyo) is an annual plant grown for its edible fruits. The fruit usually swells to fill the papery calyx, which is removed before cooking. It's usually picked when green and tart and used frequently in Mexican food. It can also be picked when yellow to purple colored, when it is much sweeter.

Good luck with your Chinese lanterns!

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