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Tamarillo (TreeTomato)

The tamarillo or tree tomato1 (Cyphomandra betacea) is native to the Andes, and has been cultivated on mountainsides since long before Europeans arrived. Today, it is grown in gardens from Chile to Venezuela, and its fruits are among the most popular of the region. On the Colombian and Ecuadorian uplands, for instance, it is found in every city, including Bogotá and Quito.

Although distributed throughout much of the world's subtropics, this little tree is usually produced only on a small scale in home gardens. Few people have ever considered it for large-scale orchard production, and it has hardly been developed commercially as yet.

However, development of this crop is under way in one country, New Zealand, where tamarillos have been popular for more than 50 years. They got a particular boost during World War II, when bananas and oranges could not be imported. During the last half-century, New Zealand horticulturists have made selections, developed improved fruit types, and created a commercial industry. Indeed, the fruits have become widely popular—children take them to school in their lunch boxes, and until the kiwifruit “boom” of the 1960s, more New Zealand acreage was devoted to tamarillos than to kiwifruit. New Zealand is already demonstrating this fruit's international potential. It is airfreighting tamarillos to North America, Japan, and Europe, and the trade is said to be expanding.

Tamarillos are egg shaped, and have attractive, glossy, purplish-red or golden skins. Inside, they look somewhat like a tomato, but their succulent flesh has a piquancy quite unlike that of its more famous cousin.

This fruit seems to have a bright future; it is flavorful, pretty, and has flexible uses and a long production season. Moreover, its “tropical” tang could be an asset in the increasing international markets for exotic


1 In English, the plant is traditionally called “tree tomato.” The name “tamarillo” was devised in New Zealand in 1967. it is becoming the standard designation for the fruit in international commerce, and is even becoming common in the Andes, where the name “tomate de árbol” (tree tomato) has been traditional.


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