Tamarillos: The South American Tomato-Like Fruit

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Tamarillos, or tree tomatoes, are a unique fruit native to South America. They resemble a tomato in shape and size but have a distinctively sweet, tangy, and slightly bitter flavor.

What is a Tamarillo?

Tamarillos, also known as a tree tomato or tomate de árbol, is a type of exotic fruit that belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which includes other well-known fruits such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. It comes from the tamarillo tree (Solanum betaceum syn. Cyphomandra betacea)

The fruit is native to South America, specifically the Andes region, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. It is also grown in other parts of the world, including New Zealand, Australia, and Kenya, and typically thrives in subtropical climates.

The tamarillo is an egg-shaped red fruit with smooth, glossy skin that ranges from purple to red to orange-yellow, depending on the variety. The fruit is about the size of a small tomato, typically measuring around 2-4 inches in length. Inside, the flesh is juicy, ranging from yellow-orange to deep red, with a cluster of tiny seeds in the center.

Regarding flavor, tamarillos are tart and tangy, with a slightly sweet and earthy undertone. The taste is often compared to a combination of tomato, passion fruit, and kiwi. The texture of the fruit is soft and pulpy, with a slightly grainy texture from the seeds.

Tamarillos are commonly eaten raw, either by slicing them in half and scooping out the flesh with a spoon or peeling off the skin and slicing the fruit into pieces. They can also be used in cooking, such as in jams, chutneys, sauces, and desserts.

The History of Tamarillo

The tamarillo is thought to have originated in the Andes region, which stretches across Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia. However, there is little information available about its actual history. What we do know is that the tamarillo is thought to be a blend of tamarind and Spanish tomatillo.

Although the tamarillo has been introduced to many regions worldwide, it has mainly been grown as a garden plant. 

The only place where it has been cultivated large-scale is New Zealand, where it was brought in during the 1800s and only gained commercial importance during World War II when there was a shortage of fruit. 

More recently, countries such as Portugal, California, and Australia have also started to take an interest in growing the tamarillo for commercial purposes.

What Does a Tamarillo Taste Like?

The taste of tamarillo is often described as a cross between a tomato and a passion fruit.

When eaten raw, tamarillo has a tangy and slightly acidic flavor with a sweet undertone. The texture is firm and somewhat grainy, similar to a tomato.

When cooked, tamarillo can be used in various dishes such as jams, chutneys, sauces, ice cream, and desserts. Cooking tamarillo can enhance its sweetness while reducing its acidity. It also becomes softer and juicier, making it a great addition to pies and cakes.

How to Tell When Tamarillow is Ripe

Here are some tips on telling when a tamarillo is ripe and selecting the best fruit when shopping.

ColorThe color of a ripe tamarillo can vary from deep red to yellow-orange. Look for a fruit that is fully colored and has no green areas. Avoid fruits that are too soft or have brown spots, as this could be a sign of over-ripeness or decay.
TextureA ripe tamarillo should be firm but slightly yielding when you press it gently. If it is too soft, it may be overripe and mushy. If it is too hard, it is not yet ripe and will need more time to mature.
ScentA ripe tamarillo should have a sweet, fruity aroma. If it has no odor or smells sour, it is likely not yet mature or has started to spoil.
Smoothness/RoughnessThe skin of a ripe tamarillo should be smooth and free of blemishes or cracks. Avoid fruits that have rough or wrinkled skin, as this may be a sign of damage or disease.

Are Tamarillos and Tomatoes Related?

Yes, Tamarillos and Tomatoes are in the Solanaceae family. While they are related, they have some primary differences in appearance, taste, and uses.


Tamarillos are oval and slightly larger than plums, with smooth and shiny skin. They come in various colors, like red, yellow, and purple, and have a tangy and slightly bitter taste.

In contrast, tomatoes are usually round, with firm and somewhat furry skin that comes in red, yellow, and green shades. They have a juicy and slightly sweet taste.


As mentioned, tamarillos have a tangy and slightly bitter taste, so they are often used in sweet dishes like jams and desserts or savory dishes like sauces and chutneys.

On the other hand, tomatoes have a juicy and slightly sweet taste, commonly used in salads, sauces, and cooked dishes.


Tamarillos are often used in recipes for a sour or tangy flavor. They are commonly used to make jams, jellies, and sauces or baked into cakes and desserts.

On the other hand, Tomatoes are a versatile fruit that can be used in many dishes, from salads to sauces, soups, and stews.

Can I Eat Raw Tamarillos?

Raw tamarillos are safe to eat, but their skin is usually sour and considered inedible, so removing it before consuming is best. There are many popular ways of eating raw tamarillos, some of which include:

Sliced and sprinkled with salt: Cut the tamarillo into slices and sprinkle some salt over it to enhance flavor. This is a popular way of eating raw tamarillos in some countries.

Blended into smoothies: Tamarillos can be blended into a delicious smoothie by combining them with other fruits such as bananas, strawberries, or mangoes. Add some honey or sugar to sweeten the smoothie if necessary.

Served in salads: Raw tamarillos can be sliced and added to salads for a tart, refreshing flavor. They pair well with leafy greens and citrus-based dressings.

Mixed into salsa: Tamarillos can be diced with other ingredients, such as onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, to create a tangy salsa. This is an ideal accompaniment to grilled meats or fish.

Eaten with yogurt: Tamarillos can be sliced and served as a healthy snack. The sweetness of the yogurt balances out the tartness of the tamarillo, making it a delicious and nutritious snack.

Cooking with Tamarillos

Before cooking with tamarillos, it’s essential to prepare them properly. Here are the steps for preparing tamarillos:

  1. Wash the fruit thoroughly with water.
  2. Cut off the stem and make a shallow cross on the base of the fruit.
  3. Place the fruit in a bowl and cover it with boiling water. Leave for 1-2 minutes until the skin loosens.
  4. Drain the fruit and rinse with cold water.
  5. Peel off the skin, which should come off quickly. If the skin is difficult to remove, place the fruit back in boiling water for a few more minutes.
  6. Cut the fruit in half and remove the pulp and seeds from the center.

Tamarillos are native to South America and are commonly used in traditional cuisines from that region, as well as New Zealand, where the fruit is known as “tree tomatoes.”

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Poached tamarillos in syrup is a simple but excellent way of preparing the fruit.

Here are a few examples of dishes that use tamarillos:

Tamarillo Salad with Basil: This isn’t your average fruit salad. The fresh, herbaceous basil flavor perfectly complements the tamarillos’ tangy sweetness. 

Poached Tamarillos in Honey and Vanilla Syrup: You won’t resist these juicy treats! The tamarillos are cooked to perfection in a heavenly mixture of honey and warm vanilla syrup, creating a sweet and sophisticated dish.

Light and Creamy Tamarillo Cheesecake: This cheesecake is light, airy, and bursting with the fruity goodness of tamarillos. The tamarillos’ tangy flavor cuts through the cheesecake’s richness, creating a heavenly balance.

How to Store Tamarillos

Tamarillos can be stored on the counter for up to 1-2 weeks, depending on their ripeness. They will take longer to ripen if they are still hard and green. 

They can be stored in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks, but the cold temperature may affect the texture and flavor of the fruit. 

Tamarillos can be frozen for up to 6 months. Cut the fruit in half, scoop the flesh, and freeze it in an airtight container.

Lastly, Tamarillos can also be dried for preservation. Slice them into thin pieces and place them in a dehydrator or an oven at low temperatures. Dried tamarillos can last up to a year if stored in an airtight container.

Nutritional Benefits of Tamarillos

Tamarillos are a fruit that offers various health benefits due to their rich nutrient content.

Firstly, they are an excellent source of vitamins A, E, and C. Vitamin A helps to maintain healthy skin and eyesight. In contrast, vitamin C is an antioxidant that boosts collagen production within the skin, reduces inflammation, and strengthens the immune system. And vitamin E protects against free radical damage and supports healthy skin.

Secondly, the tamarillo fruit is a good fiber source, which helps regulate the digestive tract, promote healthy bowel movements, and prevent constipation.

Tamarillos are also rich in potassium, an essential mineral that helps to balance fluid levels in the body, regulate blood pressure, and support muscle and nerve function.

Lastly, Gold tamarillos contain lower amounts of other essential minerals such as iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. These minerals are necessary for maintaining healthy bones, supporting energy production, and supporting various biochemical reactions.

In addition to their nutrient content, Gold tamarillos also contain citric acid and malic acid, which contribute to their sour and tart flavor. These organic acids also offer some health benefits, such as improving digestion and reducing the risk of kidney stones.

Where to Purchase Tamarillos

In the United States, tamarillos can be found in specialty stores, farmers’ markets, and some grocery stores. The best time of year to find them is from late summer to early fall, typically between July and October.

If you’re looking for fresh tamarillos, your best bet is to check with local farmers’ markets or specialty food stores specializing in exotic or international fruits. You can also check online retailers, which may have a wider selection of tamarillos available year-round. Some grocery stores may carry them seasonally.


Alexandra is a passionate writer who reveres exploring exotic fruit from far-off lands. While she’d like to one day live in a tropical paradise, she reserves that for her palate for now: from the tartness of the tamarind to the sweetness of the mangosteen. She invites others to join her on this journey of discovery, where every fruit is a new adventure.

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