A relative of the potato, tomato, eggplant and capsicum, tamarillo, otherwise known as the ‘tree tomato’, is native to Central and South America. Listed among the lost foods of the Incas and known as the ‘tomate de arbol’, tamarillo have all but disappeared from their native habitat.
First introduced into New Zealand from Asia in the late 1800s, originally only yellow and purple strains were produced. The red tamarillo was developed in the 1920s by an Auckland nurseryman with a seed from South America.
Commercial production began on a small scale during World War II when demand for tamarillos grew, due to the supply of other fruits high in vitamin C being restricted.
Although tamarillos are from South America, the name ‘tamarillo’ is not Spanish but a New Zealand invention. The fruit was originally known as tree tomato, but to avoid confusion with the common tomato, and increase appeal to export customers, the New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council decided to rename it. Council member W. Thompson came up with ‘tamarillo’, claiming it sounded both Māori and Spanish. The new name was officially adopted on 1 February 1967.
Tamarillos are most abundant June to August but are available in New Zealand from March through to December.
The flesh of the tamarillo is tangy, with a bold and complex flavour. Likened to everything from a kiwifruit, tomato, guava or passionfruit, it really is unique. The skin, and the flesh near it, have a bitter taste and are not usually eaten raw.
Add sliced, raw tamarillos to a cheese-board and salads—both sweet and savoury. With its vibrant and distinct look, use to decorate dishes from cheesecake to muffins, tarts and even pizza.
Tamarillos can be poached, fried, grilled, baked casseroled or curried. Pureed tamarillo makes an excellent marinade adding flavour and tenderising the meat.
They also make great preserves, jams, chutneys, jellies, relishes, sauces and marmalades.
Or try adding peeled chopped tamarillo to braises, stews and curries like you would tomato. Slice raw tamarillo and add to a sandwich. It pairs well with cold chicken or pork and the tangy flavour can be balanced with a soft cheese such as cottage cheese or mozzarella.
Stew with apples for a balanced compote that can be the base of a crumble or served with a number of breakfast dishes from granola and yoghurt to French toast. Halve, top with garlic butter and grill and serve with lamb, venison or pork.
The most common variety available and great eaten raw, cooked or for decorating. With deep red skin and dark red pigmentation around the seeds, they look striking when sliced or cut in half.
The sweetest of the three varieties. They are smaller in size and they have a milder, sweeter flavour. The skin is golden with a red blush, making an attractive colour combination on your table.
Their sweetness lends them to dessert dishes. Beautiful raw and added to a winter fruit salad. Puree and use as a topping over ice cream or pancakes.
Slightly sweeter than the Red but not as sweet as the Amber. Gold are a fantastic choice when looking for versatility and difference to your menu as an ingredient or a condiment.
Large and fleshy, they make a great ingredient for many recipes (particularly sauces, chutneys and pickles).
Store tamarillos in the chiller for up to two weeks or at room temperature for about a week. As the season is short, if you want to preserve them longer, peel and freeze. When defrosted they can be added to braises and curries or pureed.
Tamarillos generally grow well in Northland, Auckland, Coromandel and Bay of Plenty. They will also do well in frost-free parts of Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu, Marlborough, Nelson and the West Coast.