Tamarillo, Solanum betaceum, also known as tree tomato or tomate de arbol, is a shrub- like plant or small tree, native to the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. The name “Tamarillo” was created by the New Zealand Tree Tomatoes Promotion Board to distinguish it from the tomato plant. The letter “t” stands for tomate or tomato, “amarillo” from the Spanish word for yellow and, in a moment of whimsical creativity, they claim that “tama” also stands for the Maori word for leadership. Outside of New Zealand, most people call it tree tomato but, for the purposes of this compendium, we’ll call it tamarillo in honor of the Maori.
The tamarillo is now cultivated in many tropical regions, but New Zealand and Portugal grow it commercially for international export. The tree starts producing fruits within two years, and can produce as many as 30 pounds of fruit over a three-month period.
The fruit is yellow or deep red, with a thin skin, soft red and yellow flesh when ripe, and numerous small black edible seeds. The fruits are ovoid and range in size from 1-1/2 inches to 6 inches. The fruits are mildly sweet and tangy, somewhat like the yellow passion fruit or kiwi. The skin and the flesh near the skin tend to be bitter. The fruit is eaten out-of-hand, made into juice or puree, and used in desserts. I first had a tamarillo in the early 1980s. My memory of it was that it was curious, but not something I’d actively seek out.