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 (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. This is 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
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, tamarillos 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.
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.