What Are Tamarillos?

Explains what a tamarillo is, where and how it is produced, and common uses for it in cooking as both a vegetable and a fruit.

The tamarillo, also known as the tree tomato, is an unusual, exotic, subtropical fruit that can also be used in vegetable dishes. This is because it has two different variety types, one of which is more tart than the other and is good when used in vegetable recipes. Tamarillos are native to South America, specifically Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. The fruit is produced from a tamarillo tree, which is an evergreen that can grow to heights of up to 10 feet. The fruits that are produced from this tree grow either singly or in clusters. Additionally, the fruits are sized at approximately two to four inches in length. Although the tamarillo tree produces edible fruits, it also produces fragrant flowers that are colored pink, purple, and yellow.

Tamarillo fruit has an oval shape and an outer skin that is either red or purple toned, or yellow or orange toned. Additionally, the red or purple toned tamarillo fruit contains an inner flesh that is black while the yellow or orange tamarillo fruit contains an orange colored inner flesh. Although both types of tamarillos contain edible seeds, the flavor of the flesh within the two types varies considerably. Red or purple toned tamarillos have a more tart taste than their yellow or orange toned counterparts. Because of this, the red or purple toned tamarillos are more frequently used as a vegetable than as a fruit. It is also important to note that on both types of tamarillos, the skin should not be eaten and should be removed prior to using the fruit.

You can purchase tamarillos year round at some larger supermarket chains and at some specialty fruit markets. When purchasing tamarillos, make sure that the outer skin is free of blemishes and defects and that the fruit has a smooth and shiny colored skin. Also, purchase only those tamarillos that are firm to the touch. Once you have purchased your tamarillos, if the fruit is still hard to the touch (unripe), you should allow the fruit to ripen at room temperature until it softens a bit. Once the fruit has ripened, you can keep it fresh by storing it in your refrigerator. Once refrigerated, ripened tamarillos can be stored for up to ten days.

Because tamarillos can be used in cooking as both a fruit and a vegetable, recipes for them vary. However, popular uses for the red or purple tamarillo include the following: peeling slices of the tamarillo then serving them as a cold side dish, adding them to sandwiches and salads as you would a tomato, and sautéing them in a skillet with seasonings to serve as a hot entrée accompaniment. Uses for the yellow or orange tamarillo include slicing them into pieces to add to fruit salads and other desserts. Note that both types of tamarillos can also be baked, frozen, or eaten, raw, as long as the outer skin is removed prior to using the fruit.

Tamarillos offer a unique alternative to tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables in salads and side dishes. They also offer an interesting ingredient to certain dessert recipes. Where available, tamarillos are worth purchasing for their flavorful taste and unusual and attractive appearance.

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