Origin of Tree Tomato
Tree tomatoes originate in South America, most likely in the Peruvian Andes. Some speculate that the Incas subsided on tree tomatoes along with the other known staples of potato and corn. Other distinct locations of origin are Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. It wasn’t long before Central American countries began growing tamarillos, and the fruit is still widespread throughout Costa Rica and Guatemala. The tree tomato’s migration continued east to the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.
Explorers brought seeds to India in the late 1800s, where they grew throughout hillsides relatively unknown. Not long after their introduction to Sri Lanka and Nepal, missionaries from India brought tamarillo seeds to New Zealand circa 1890. Unsurprisingly, Australia received tree tomatoes around the same time.
Commercial production of tree tomatoes occurred in the 1930s, and its popularity grew considerably during World War II. In 1967, its commercial name of “tree tomato” was switched to “tamarillo” as a way of distinguishing it from the classic tomato. Today, commercial tree tomato production is restricted to a handful of countries, namely Colombia and Ecuador. Australia, California, and a select few countries in Africa and Asia are other tamarillo-growing regions.
Availability of Tree Tomato in India
Tree tomatoes grow in the hilly regions of West Bengal and Maharashtra, including Assam, Uttaranchal, Nagaland and Himachal Pradesh. These fruits can be found on a limited basis throughout the country. The South’s exposure to the fruit comes from its production in the Nilgiri hills, as this is one of the only areas cool enough to sustain the crop. Tamarillos are a subtropical fruit, growing between 1,000 to 7,500 feet elevations in India.
These fruits aren’t difficult to grow, but they ripen unevenly on the tree. The constant pruning makes them one of the more laborious fruits for farmers to grow, though the tree’s lifespan of up to 10 years compensates for this drawback.
Where to find Tamarillo in India
The only parts of the globe that produce this fruit on a large scale are South America and New Zealand. Tree tomatoes are not a popular fruit in India, thus making them difficult—but not impossible—to find. They appear sporadically when in season between May through October. Not all vendors choose to distribute them when they make the occasional appearance in the wholesale markets. Those that purchase them for retail sale charge fairly low prices, making them a good buy for those wanting to try this egg-shaped fruit.
Checking for Ripeness in Tamarillo
Ripe tree tomatoes appear in a variety of gorgeous colors from yellow to red to deep mauve. Dark stripes adorn some tamarillos as well. Only unripe tamarillos, however, are green and unyielding to the touch. When ripe, tamarillos remain firm but give slightly when pinched. The skin is glossy and velvety like a tomato’s when ready for consumption. Smell the fruits: Like tomatoes, the best tamarillos have a fragrant, spicy aroma. Overripe tamarillos lose their luster, appear wrinkled and disheveled, and taste overly sour and fermented.
Taste of Tamarillo
The tough skin is edible, but not appetizing. Tamarillo flesh tastes similar to cape gooseberries: sharp in its acidity, sweet, and bearing resemblance to tomatoes. The flavor is also mildly resinous with a subtle metallic aftertaste, and the fruit varies in its astringency. The vibrancy of the fruit’s flavor is reminiscent of passion fruit’s, with others noting hints of peach and orange. The seeds are a bit bitter, but perfectly edible with no negative impact on the overall taste. Tree tomatoes have an agreeable texture similar to tomatoes, but often less watery and pulpier.
Some cannot eat too many raw tamarillos due to the fruit’s high acidity. If seeking a milder flavor, opt for the yellow fruits over the darker-fleshed variants.
Nutritional Value of Tree Tomato
According to the book, “Nutritive Value of Indian Foods,” tree tomatoes contain the following values per 100g of fruit:
Health Benefits of Tree Tomato
Tree tomatoes contain high levels of vitamin A, imperative for boosting eyesight, maintaining skin health, and supporting ideal red blood cell levels. The fruit’s high vitamin C content assists the body with immunity, bone health, and wound repair.
According to the World Agro Forestry Centre, tamarillos have medicinal benefits long enjoyed in South America: in Ecuador, warmed leaves wrapped around the neck treat a sore throat. To treat inflamed tonsils, Colombians make a poultice by cooking the fruit pulp in embers. Jamaicans refer to tree tomatoes as “vegetable mercury” based on their belief of its curative properties to the liver.
--A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows proteins in tree tomatoes have an antimutagenic effect. The proteins reduced oxidative damage and inhibited uric acid formation.
--A 2010 report, Bioactive Non-Nutrient Components in Indigenous African Vegetables, suggests tree tomatoes as a natural remedy for anemia.
--The National Institutes of Health found tree tomatoes have high levels of anthocyanins, which protect the body from diabetes, symptoms of aging, certain cancers, and neurological diseases.
--Tree tomatoes also contain lycopene, a compound that wards off degenerative diseases, boosts heart health, and aids the skin’s ability to withstand UV radiation.
How to Open/Cut:
Taramarillos require peeling before consumption. If the fruit is particularly small, cut in half and scoop out the flesh. The flesh of tamarillos retains its shape well, allowing for it to be cut into small slices or rings. It’s possible to heat tamarillos by baking or grilling as well. If desiring to remove the mildly bitter skin, blanch by dropping the whole fruits in boiling water for no more than 30 seconds. Let the fruits sit for five minutes—afterwards, the skin should come off with ease.
Note: do not cut tree tomatoes on a porous surface—like pomegranate, the fruit juice causes stains.
If ripening is necessary, leave tree tomatoes at room temperature. Otherwise, place the fruits in a perforated container or bag and put in the refrigerator—they will keep up to two weeks. Chilling below 40 degrees will cause skin discoloration. Freeze tamarillos by peeling and storing whole, or scoop the flesh and place in a freezer bag. The fruit will keep until the following season.
Tree Tomato Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Sautee tree tomatoes with other vegetables and add Italian seasoning or marinara. Cooking will, however, reduce its tartness.
--Bake or grill the fruits, and serve alongside tofu grilled and marinated in olive oil, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
--Make tree tomato jam: as a high-pectin fruit, tamarillos are ideal for preserving. If making chutney from the fruits, let the sealed jars sit for a few months to capture the flavors. Also, never use a metallic container for canning: its acidity will erode the cans.
--In Nepal, locals make tyaamatar ko chutney: roast garlic and tamarillos over an open grill, and then transfer to a mortar. With a pestle, mash the garlic, tomatillo, salt, and green chili. Separately, heat mustard oil, fenugreek, and garlic. Once golden brown, add the tree tomato concoction and set aside. Serve the chutney alongside rice.
--Create simple compote by simmering tamarillo flesh with dates and prunes.
--Substitute tamarillos for tomatoes in quiche and salsa recipes
--Add to sandwiches, especially those with cream spreads
--Stewing and adding sugar makes compote usable as an ice cream or custard topping.
--Make a tree tomato galette by adding stewed fruits atop a thin, sweet crust. Stew the tree tomatoes in sugar with other sweet fruits such as strawberry, plums, stewed apricot, or top the finished bake with pomegranate seeds for an extra crunch.
|Raw vegan tamarillo fruit balls from|
Cape gooseberry, tomato, lime, lemon, avocado, bell pepper, eggplant, garlic, mushrooms, orange, passion fruit, cape gooseberry, strawberry, plum
Herbs, spices, and oil: Lemon or lime juice, garlic, basil, dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano, coriander, mustard seed, turmeric, garlic, onion, olive oil, salt, pepper, jalapeno, coconut milk, balsamic vinegar, vodka, barbeque sauce, plum, raisin, faux cheese, honey, red wine, cinnamon, clove, citrus zest, anise
Despite what its Spanish-sounding name would suggest, New Zealand coined the term, “tamarillo.” The name is a hybrid between the Maori word for leader, “tama,” and possibly the Spanish word, yellow, or, “amarillo.”
A single tamarillo may contain 130 seeds.
Tamarillos belong in the nightshade family, along with tomato, eggplant, potato, bell pepper, and cape gooseberry