Tamarillo is the long-lost relative of the tomato, indigenous to the Andes in South America. Nowadays, it is grown worldwide in subtropical climates, especially in New Zealand where, since 1996, it has been marketed for international export.
The tamarillo tree is in the flowering plant family Solanaceae. It grows quickly and reaches peak production in four years. The plant is usually rather small but can grow up to 15 feet tall, featuring large, smelly leaves.
Flowers are pinkish white, and cluster in groups of 10-50, producing 1 to 6 fruits per cluster, which all mature at different times. The trees tend to flourish anywhere where citrus is grown.
The fruit’s round exterior is egg-shaped and ranges from 2 to 4 inches long. The color varies widely, similar to a tomato: yellow, orange, red and purple. They can even be striped.
The texture of the fruit is firm, with more seeds than a tomato. A cross-section almost resembles a passion fruit, with black seeds surrounded by gobs of gelatin.
Yellow tamarillos are the sweetest, with hints of mango and apricot. The red variety, the most common, is tarter and more savory. The tamarillo is also known as the tree tomato, tomamoro, and sachatomate.
Nowadays, it’s possible, though not quite easy, to find tamarillo. Where you are in the world will determine what type of tamarillo you can purchase—consumers in Europe prefer the red and purple varieties, for example, although they are actually less sweet.
Choose a tamarillo as you would a tomato, looking for a soft firmness and a nice, ripe smell, and avoiding fruit that is blemished.
How do you eat tamarillo?
Tamarillos are incredibly versatile. Many eat the fruit fresh, but it has loads of culinary uses across the world as well. Generally, people either peel the fruit or discard the skin without eating, due to its bitter taste and tough texture.
As with tomatoes, if you wish to peel the fruit, the easiest thing to do is trace an X with a sharp knife on one end of the tamarillo. Dunk it in boiling water for 20 seconds and then cool with running or ice water.
The skin will slip right off. Another way to eat the tamarillo is to slice it in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh out to eat with a spoon, leaving the peel behind.
Tamarillos are often juiced, and mixed with water and sugar before serving. In India, tamarillo is a popular ingredient in chutney or a pickle.
In South America, tamarillo is blended with hot chilis to make salsa, served with meat and other dishes. In New Zealand, some people scoop the flesh out and spread it on toast for breakfast.
What does tamarillo taste like?
Although tamarillo may look a bit like a tomato on the outside, the flavor is quite special. The flesh is tangy and sweet. The flavor is one part passion fruit, one part tomato, with a bit of kiwi flavor thrown in.
It does have an acidic, tangy bite, but the overall taste is sweeter than a tomato. The skin is best removed as it lends a tough, bitter taste to the fruit.
When is tamarillo in season?
Tamarillo which grows in a tropical climate can flower and fruit at any time of year. However, in growing areas that have distinct seasons, the fruit generally ripens in autumn.
Benefits of tamarillo
Tamarillo has loads of health benefits. Read on to find out what they are:
- It is a powerful antioxidant. Tamarillo has several nutrients that act as antioxidant activity, from vitamins A, C, and E to flavonoids and phenols. These antioxidants are incredibly beneficial, helping fight off chances of cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, and more. Lycopene has been shown to fight cancer especially.
- It promotes antimicrobial activity. The proteins in the tree tomato halt the action of the enzyme invertase, which can help prevent infection, an effect proven in several studies.
- It can improve eye health. The vitamin A in tamarillo is very beneficial for the eyes. It does everything from creating a barrier on the eye membranes to protect from harmful irritants to help maintain eyesight. The nutrients have properties that help prevent degenerative eye disorders.
- It is compatible with diabetes. Chlorogenic acid helps lower blood sugar, which can be really helpful for those that suffer from diabetes. The antioxidants in the tamarillos are also beneficial for organs related to the development of diabetes (including the liver and pancreas).
- It may help to keep the heart healthy. The fiber in tamarillo helps lower bad cholesterol, which is beneficial to heart health. The potassium found in the fruit controls heart rate and blood pressure while counteracting any negative effects from excess sodium intake.
- It can leave your skin glowing. The vitamins in tree tomato help to prevent skin aging and rebuild new skin cells. The antioxidants help combat oxidative-related stress on the skin that can come from UV light and environmental contamination.
- It may help to fight kidney stones. The citric acid in tamarillo provides a dietary source of citric acid that will help the body flush excess calcium and uric acid, instead of allowing them to form painful kidney stones.
5 x tamarillo facts
- New Zealand produces over 2,000 tons of tamarillos for export to countries worldwide, the largest global producer.
- The tamarillo is a delicious (and perfectly safe) member of the deadly nightshade family.
- The name ‘tamarillo’ was invented in New Zealand in 1967 as a way to make the fruit sounds more appetizing and exotic.
- The tamarillo has many different names in Spanish, none of which are tamarillo! Instead, they translate to things like tree tomato, sweet tomato, and little pomegranate tomato.
- The tamarillo has traditional medicinal uses, also. In South America, it is cooked in embers and then pulverized for topical use and skin issues.