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Tamarillos

Solanum betaceum


Photo courtesy of Tamarillo Growers Association

Description

In much of the world outside New Zealand, the tamarillo is known as the ‘tree tomato’. Cut one in half and you’ll see why – inside the egg-shaped fruit is tomato-like flesh with tomato-like seeds surrounding a soft central core.

The flavour is something like a tart, tropical-tasting tomato that some compare to a guava or passionfruit. The fruit grows well in New Zealand’s subtropical climate, and Kiwi-grown fruit is exported to America, Japan, and Europe.

Tamarilloes are a good source of vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as a number of important trace minerals such as potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, and copper.

Look for tamarilloes that are a uniform colour all the way up to the stalk. On fully ripe fruit, the stalk will be slightly loose and starting to turn yellow. Store at room temperature for about a week, or in the fridge for two weeks. They freeze well – you can either freeze them whole without their skins, or puree them.

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History

Tamarilloes are native to Central and South America, where they’re known as tomate de árbol, and were eaten as far back as the time of the Inca.

They were introduced to New Zealand in the late 1800s, when only yellow-and purple-skinned varieties existed. The common red-skinned tamarillo wasn’t developed until the 1920s. Commercial cultivation began in the 1930s, and their popularity hit its stride during the war, when fruit that was high in vitamin C was hard to come by.

The name ‘tamarillo’ dates back to 1967, when the commercial body responsible for marketing them decided it was too easy to confuse them with tomatoes and the name needed changing. Tama comes from the Maori for ‘leadership’, and rillo probably comes from the Spanish amarillo, meaning ‘yellow’. Production took off in the 1970s, leading to the development of pest control and quality management systems.

Uses

While tamarilloes are eaten raw in the same way as a feijoa or a kiwifruit, they have to be perfectly ripe before they’re palatable, otherwise being too acidic.

They do well in cooking, however, and can be used in crumbles, muffins, salads and chutneys. Stewed tamarillo is good with breakfast cereal, such as muesli, much in the same way that stewed apples are.

Facts

Tamarilloes are worth $700,000 to New Zealand’s export market, and about $1.3m to the domestic market. About 100 tonnes of the fruit is exported each year.



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