Tomatoes Grow On Trees?
The trusty tomato is a household staple and doesn’t necessarily scream ‘exotic’. However, there is one tomato that stands out from the rest – the tree tomato or tamarillo tomato (Cyphomandra betaceae).
The name ‘tree tomato’ may cause some confusion as the fruits look like tomatoes but definitely do not taste like them, and have a flavour profile so difficult to pinpoint that ‘tamarillo flavour’ is really the only way to describe it. This small tree hails from South America and although its fruits are lesser known than the typical tomato, it is no less tasty.
Tamarillo tomatoes are one of those unknown plants that can’t really be put into words, but you can easily experience it for yourself with these growing tips.
Growing and care of Tamarillo Tomatoes
The tree tomato thrives in warmer climates with minimum temperatures of above 10°C. In colder climates it is best to plant in a large pot that can be brought inside in winter, although you will sacrifice some fruit yield. Tamarillos can grow in many soil types if there is enough drainage, but fertilising is best for consistent growth.
These trees should usually be planted in full sun but can tolerate partial shade in hotter climates. As they have shallow root systems and brittle branches, it is important to protect the trees from high winds and to stabilise them.
Be careful not to cut wind off completely though, as this prevents self-pollination. Once planted, tree tomatoes will require frequent watering but cannot sit in water as a mere 2 – 3 days in water is enough to kill the tree. Fertiliser should be used about four times a year and the trees should be pruned regularly to promote branching in younger plants and to increase the size of the fruits.
Luckily, tamarillo tomatoes do not have too many issues with pests, although aphids and fruit flies are a concern and should be monitored to ensure healthy fruit production. The most common disease to be aware of is powdery mildew.
Harvesting tamarillo tomatoes
Tamarillos do not ripen at the same time and harvesting times can vary throughout the year. It takes about 25 weeks for the fruit to ripen for eating purposes, indicated by the colour change from green to red or orange depending on the variety.
The fruits don’t last very long in storage and should be used within 10 days if kept in the fridge. As these trees usually bear several fruits in clusters it is best not to leave them on the branches as they can snap or attract fruit flies. Tamarillo trees can produce up to a whopping 20kg of fruit, but luckily there are a number of delicious recipes you can take advantage of.
Although it is a lesser known fruit, tamarillos have made a name for themselves in the health community as one of the healthiest fruits around. It is one of the most nutritionally dense fruits, despite its low calorie count, and is packed with vitamins A, C, E, B-complex vitamins and a number of nutrients and minerals that improve the immune system.
It is the perfect fruit for weight loss and skin health, plus it can aid those with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. You can use tamarillos for just about anything – sauces, chutneys, salads, jams or even raw sprinkled with some sugar.
The seeds can be eaten although they have a strong bitter flavour and the tough skin should be removed before use. Sticking to it’s South American roots, tamarillos are a great base for a spicy salsa to serve with chips, bread, fish or meat.
Recipe: Tree Tomato Salsa
4 – 5 tree tomatoes
1 onion, quartered
Sprinkle of sugar
Fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper
Peel the tamarillos by cutting a cross in the top of each one and placing in a bowl with boiling water. The skins can be easily removed after a few minutes. Finely chop the onions, coriander, chillies and tamarillos, and add to a bowl with a splash of olive oil, lemon juice and sugar. Mix well and serve with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Poached Tamarillos with cream and caramel dust
If you want to make your tamarillos the star of the show, this recipe is a great way to highlight their tangy flavour. To lessen the intensity and balance the flavour of the syrup, a dollop of cream on top and a sprinkle of caramel dust finishes this dessert perfectly.
6 – 8 tree tomatoes, whole
1 cup red wine
3 cups water
1 star anise
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup brown sugar
For the caramel dust
½ tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt
Cut a cross in the top of each tamarillo. Add the sugar, water and wine to a saucepan. Add the tamarillos, star anise, cinnamon and vanilla extract, and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.
To make the caramel dust, heat 2 tablespoons water and the sugar in a pan over medium-high heat without stirring. When the mixture comes to a boil, stir occasionally until the sugar turns a light golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and salt. Pour onto a tray lined with baking paper and leave to cool until the caramel can be cracked. Add pieces to food processor or grind by hand until a dust is formed. Remove the tamarillos to peel the skins and return to the sauce for a further 15 minutes.
Serve one fruit per person with a spoonful of sauce, and top with cream and caramel dust, with optional caramel shards on the side.
Unfortunately the tree tomato is a problem in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, where it has a NEMBA Category 3 classification. As such it is illegal to sell plants or seeds, but you don’t have to destroy plants in your garden.