What Is A Tamarillo?

by | Jan 14, 2009

Tamarillos or tree tomatoes are egg-shaped fruits native to South America. Being from San Francisco I had never heard of them until two weeks ago when I found them at my favorite farmers market.

That day I only bought one. The next week I got a full bag of them.

I will not deny that these little fruits are strange. The color alone could be the topic of an entire post. Their flesh is orange like a persimmon, but the soft black seeds are nested in a deep red gel, making it seem as if they are bleeding when you cut them open. Although that sounds kind of gruesome, they are actually beautiful to behold. If I were a food painter, I would certainly seek out some tamarillos to be my subjects.

The taste of my first tamarillo surprised me even more than its appearance. I had expected it to be, well, I’m not sure, but the person I bought it from said it is usually served with either sugar or salt, like a tomato. I guess I was expecting it to be more savory or acidic. In my estimation it was closer to sweet, and seemed to perfectly meld the flavors of passion fruit, kiwi and tomato.

Strange, but delicious.

Unfortunately the skin does not lend itself to palatability. It is tough, bitter and very sour. Best to do away with it completely. The seeds, however, are edible.

Unripe a tamarillo can lean toward sour and bitter, so I am told it is best to eat them when they are dark red and softer rather than harder (they never get very soft).

Tamarillos are high in potassium, manganese, copper and vitamins A, C, E and B6.

All I know is that I am going to keep buying them until I can’t find anymore.

Do any of you have experience with tamarillos?

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27 Responses to “What Is A Tamarillo?”

  1. Karin says:

    “soft black seeds are nested in a deep red gel, making it seem as if they are bleeding when you cut them open….”So Emo. I’d like to try one though.

  2. Darya Pino says:

    @KarinHaha Emo! That’s me (or my fruit?). LOL.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Emo? Um, I don’t think you know what emo mean…..

  4. Darya Pino says:

    @anon1He he, you called it. I have no idea what Emo is. That’s why it was awesome I was accused of it 😉

  5. NB says:

    Never admit you don’t know what emo is. But Anon is right, there isn’t anything emo about this post. You should visit this emo website.I feel like Tacos.

  6. Healthyliving says:

    I was wondering what it is about different fruits/veggies that make them grow in different seasons. Why are Persimmons and Tamarillos here in the winter, while peaches are a summer fruit? Is it genetic or something? Is it possible to insert the winter-gene into a flavor-queen pluot? Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to try a tamarillo, but deep down I’m always craving stonefruit.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Tomatillos, Tamarillos, anything else?

  8. Matt Shook says:

    I saw lots of tamarillos in Peru and Chile…unfortunately, I did not try any of them because fresh fruit or vegetables wasn’t an option unless they were cooked well. I’m seen ’em at different locales in PDX…I’ll have to try one sometime.

  9. Darya Pino says:

    @HealthylivingI have wondered that myself but haven’t had time to do the research. Definitely winter fruits seem sturdier than the delicate summer fruits. Also winter fruits seem like they need more time to mature before they are sweet. Hmmm, maybe a good future post topic!—-@MattHa, I thought with all your travels you might have come across them. Too bad you didn’t get to try them. Definitely grab some if you see them in Portland, they’re fun!

  10. Matt Shook says:

    @DaryaIt wasn’t because I didn’t want to…unfortunately for most of Peru raw fruits and vegetables was not an option, more like risky endeavor. The sanitation (or lack of), pollution, and contamination conditions there allow many nasty bacterias and parasites to flourish. All the volunteers and travelers I met from all over the world each had their own story about getting sick in Peru (particularly in the Arequipa region). I only got sick once, but it was a doozie…food poisoning that left me bedridden for three days. I lost 10 pounds in those three days, and was quite weak for several days after. The probiotics I brought along helped me get my digestive system back to normal.I don’t have any excuses for not try tamrillos in Portland. Here’s a question…as for as choosing good tamarillos you said its best to get them when they are dark red and soft, rather than hard…is their ripe softness more like a tomato, or more like a pear? This my be a stupid question but I just want to make sure I don’t try an overripe one for my first impression.

  11. Darya Pino says:

    @MattHmmm, not really like a tomato (too soft) or a pear (too hard). More like an eggplant because it has thick skin. Grab the darkest looking one you see and compare it to a lighter one, your intuition will guide you.I think you should be more concerned about getting an under ripe one rather than an over ripe one. Under ripe (I had one yesterday) are pretty sour.Hope this helps!

  12. Matt Shook says:

    @DaryaMany thanks for the response…I think I know what to look for in a good tamarillo now. One last random question…do they ripen quicker when put in a paper bag like unripe avocados?

  13. Andrea says:

    I thought Emo was short for emotional…if that’s true (which it probably is not) then that sentence would be appropriate if the tamarillo were actually hurt by the cutting…The pictures look great, though, not Emo at all.

  14. Chelle says:

    Just read the posts about tree tomatoes and had to respond. I just got back from Ecuador, and tree tomatoes are my new favorite food. I had them candied for dessert as well as pureed for salsa and cebiche. Absolutely delicious!! Anyone have a suggestion where to find them in Washington state?

    • Darya Pino says:

      Lucky you! Definitely come back and let us know if you find them. You will probably need to search specialty markets in late summer.

      • Chelle says:

        Thanks for the tip. I’ll try Portland this summer. I checked with our local Mexican grocer this weekend, and he had no idea what I was talking about – kept trying to sell tomatillos 🙂

  15. Patty says:

    Where can I get tamarillos (tree tomatoes) in San Francisco? I learned how to make aji salsa while in Ecuador and am looking forward to making it here.

  16. Sarah says:

    Just had my first Tamarillo and I’m from Sydney Australia, having grown up on loads of exotic fruits!
    The Tamarillo was dark red, soft and a tasteural mix between a tomato, passionfruit & kiwi fruit.
    I think I expected it to be a a little more on the sweet side. It tasted slightly bitter like a tomato and I imagine using it more for a bruschetta or tapinade than adding sugars and making a dessert.

  17. Janet says:

    Just to add … Tamarillo fruit is also native to most African countries. I am from East Africa and most homesteads I know including our own had several Red and yellow Tamarillo plants. We know them by a different name of course (blood fruit). Sometimes as children, we use to add sugar on to their yellowish red looking pulp to make it more palatable. We then used a spoon to scoop out the yummy fruit flesh.

  18. Shonnie says:

    I’m moving into a new house at the moment all the way on the other side of the world in New Zealand, and we have a Tamarillo shrub in our yard.. I’ve never seen or tried them so I love this post..so thank you! Although they are still green and un edible at the moment, I can’t wait until I can try my first one and start experimenting in the kitchen (my favorite thing to do!).

  19. Henry A. Sorianp says:

    It looks like nobody here tried eating the ripe tamarillo fruit straight from the tree (after washing it). When we were young in Baguio City Philippines we use to pick the ripe tamarillo, nip the end and suck what is inside (the seeds and the pulp) as you squeeze the fruit. When done just throw away skin and pick another one.

  20. VL says:

    I’ve tried a red tamarillo today, bought it together with a kiwano. I’ve read that it tastes very similar to a kiwi and as I like kiwis I said I should try one. After trying it (together with 4 other family members) we all had the same verdict: this tastes like a melon but a sour version of it.
    About kiwano I’ve read it tastes like a mix of cucumbers, banana and kiwi. Well we all had the same verdict about this as well: a sweet version of kiwi.
    In the end I’ve mixed the two of them and added some sugar so I can eat them (these tastes a lot better this way), but we are not fond of them and will not buy these again. We would prefer kiwi and melon (are way less expensive as well). 🙂

  21. chez says:

    So I eat these like they are going out of fashion when they r in season. I have a real bad sore tummy would that be from too many..lol

  22. Dennell Alvarez says:

    Seriously such a good review on this! Thank you! 🙂

  23. Fidgit says:

    I just encountered these fruits walking in to Ecuador. A delicious surprise, though I have been consuming them mostly in smoothie form. I have found them fine to eat abroad, since you remove the skin anyway.

    Thank you for this post. I am trying to compare them to passion fruit. Am I correct that they are different?

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