Salsa Verde, savory jams and jellies, sauces and chutneys—all are delicious and can be made with the versatile tree tomato, also known as the tamarillo. Tamarillos can be enjoyed either fresh or cooked, but it is best to avoid their thin skin, as it tends to be bitter. Upon slicing open a tamarillo you will immediately notice that the inside resembles the inside of a tomato. However, the taste of a tamarillo is very different. Tamarillos tend to have a rich, sweet flavor that is tangy with fragrant tropical notes. Generally believed to be native to the Andes of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia, the tamarillo is now cultivated and naturalized in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.
The tomato tree a fast-growing, brittle tree that is small and attractive. It grows to be between ten and eighteen feet in height. The leaves of the plant measure four to thirteen inches, are heart-shaped at the base and come to a point and give off a musky, evergreen scent.
The tamarillo is an egg-shaped edible fruit that grows in clusters of three to twelve and ranges from 2 to 4 inches in length and 1 1/2 to 2 inches in width. The skin color comes in a variety of colors including deep purple, blood red, orange, yellow, or red and yellow. The skin of the tamarillo can be quite tough and has a bitter flavor. The outer layer of flesh is firm, tender, and rather bland. The inner pulp surrounding the seeds is soft, juicy and slightly acidic and sweet. In dark purple and red tamarillos the inner flesh will be black and in yellow and orange fruits it will be yellow. The seeds are thin, circular and are slightly bitter.
Native to South America, the tree tomato is grown in a number of countries. Cultivated from cuttings, the tomato tree is sensitive to frost when young. As a shallow-rooted tree, the tomato tree responds well to deep mulching and requires an abundance of water. After two years the tree will begin to bear fruit and typically yields 44 to 66 pounds of fruit a season.
A well cared for and nourished tree will yield plenty of fruit to make jellies and jams for canning and fresh curries and salsas. The tamarillo can be eaten and cooked in a variety of ways. To eat a ripe tamarillo without cooking, cut the tamarillo in half, scoop out the flesh and pulp and sprinkle with sugar. Other cooking methods to enjoy just the tamarillo include slicing the tamarillo in half, seasoning with salt and pepper and grilling or baking for 15 minutes and serving as a side dish. Make sure you do not eat the skin, as it is bitter.
For other cooking purposes, pouring boiling water over the fruit and letting the tamarillos sit in the water for four minutes should help remove the skin. This allows the skin to loosen and makes peeling the fruit easier. To peel the tamarillos begin at the stem and peel the skin off. The fruit can be added to soups, stews, salsas, made into chutney, pickled, or for a truly unique dessert topped on vanilla ice cream.