What Is Green Tomato Relish?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2020
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Green tomato relish, also commonly known as chow-chow, is a condiment associated with the cuisine of the American South. It is primarily green in color and usually has a chunky texture and a tangy-sweet flavor. Many food experts believe that green tomato relish was first devised to prevent under-ripe tomatoes from going to waste. Green tomato relish can be purchased in stores or prepared at home. While most relish recipes share the same basic ingredients, seasonings and preparation techniques can vary.

A familiar part of Southern American cuisine, green tomato relish is a condiment that can be eaten atop cornbread, hot dogs, crackers, soft cheeses, and a number of other foods. It is predominantly greenish-yellow in color, and is sometimes flecked with red from the addition of bell peppers. The consistency of the relish is usually fairly chunky, and its flavor is simultaneously tangy, sweet, and salty.

As its name suggests, the primary ingredient in green tomato relish is green tomatoes. Rather than being a unique variety of tomatoes, green tomatoes are simply regular tomatoes that have not reached ripeness. Green tomato relish has traditionally been prepared in late summer or early fall, at the end of the tomato-growing season. It is believed that it was invented to prevent the waste of tomatoes that had not ripened by this time.


Those who wish to sample green tomato relish can find it in the condiment aisle of most supermarkets in the US South. It is also available in many specialty food stores throughout North America. The relish should not be confused with piccalilli, however, which often has a similar appearance, but is actually made from minced pickled cucumbers rather than green tomatoes.

It is also possible to prepare green tomato relish at home. Recipes for the relish can be found in many Southern cookbooks as well as on Internet-based cooking websites. Most relish recipes share a few basic ingredients, such as green tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Additional ingredients can vary, but may include seasonings like mustard seed, celery seed, and turmeric, vegetables like cabbage, and extra sweeteners, such as marmalade.

The exact techniques used to prepare the relish can also vary from one recipe to another. Some recipes call for the tomatoes and other vegetables to be chopped, salted, and allowed to rest overnight, while others omit this step. Similarly, some recipes dictate that the relish should be simmered for an hour or more, while others call for the ingredients to be boiled briefly.



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