Tamarillo or Tree Tomato: Its Nutrition and Gastronomical Uses

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The tree tomato, also known as tamarillo, is a member of the nightshade family, as is the tomato. Like its close relative tamarillo originated from South America and is now cultivated in many of the worlds subtropical regions. Tamarillo can substitute for

Tamarillo or Cyphomandra betacea is an orangey-red skinned fruit, about the size and shape of an elongated plum tomato, hence the fruit’s popular name tree tomato. Tamarillo belongs to the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomato, eggplant, pepper, potato and many toxic plants. This subtropical fruit is thought to have originated from the Andean regions of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, where it flourishes in cool elevations above 5000 ft. From there the tamarillo’s propagation was spread throughout the highlands of Central America, the West Indies, the Indian subcontinent and eventually to the East Indies, by Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese traders.

In the 19th century a group of horticulturists introduced the tree tomato to New Zealand and in 1967 the fruit was marketed under the exotic name tamarillo. Today New Zealand is still one of the worlds largest producers of tamarillo. This fruit is also cultivated in Australia, India, Portugal and in some parts of Africa, most notably Kenya.

Tamarillo: its Gastronomical Uses and Storing: Tamarillo is not the best fruit to enjoy raw because it can be extremely acidic. However, when it is ripe it can be eaten with a sprinkling of salt or sugar and a little lime or lemon juice. Scoop out the pulp, with it many black seeds, and enjoy the flesh. The flavor of which could be compared to tomato, alkakengi, gooseberry, or plum.

The tough skin of tamarillo is inedible and needs to be pilled with a knife. If you are going to cook this fruit, first blanch it in boiling water then shock in ice water, to make the skins easier to remove. Be careful with tamarillo juice as it leaves indelible stains on clothing.

Tamarillo can replace tomato in almost any recipe. Use peeled tamarillo’s for tomato sauce, salsa’s, curries; baked or grilled like vegetables. A tamarillo salad can be made by marinating the fruit in a vinaigrette for about 2 hours. This fruit is a great accompaniment for fish, meat, poultry and pairs well with creamy sauces. For dessert it is often poached, pureed and used to flavor ice cream, sorbet or yogurt. Tamarillo has a high pectin content and makes good jam or chutney.

Like the tomato, tamarillo should be left to ripen at room temperature. Once ripened it should be stored in a perforated container and refrigerated. It will last for up to two weeks. Tamarillo can also be frozen whole or for better results, cook and puree tamarillo, add a little sugar before freezing.

Tamarillo and its Nutrition: The tree tomato is an excellent source of antioxidants because it contains a type of flavonoid known as anthocyanins. Furthermore, and more importantly it contains the carotenoids lycopene and beta carotene.

Lycopene’s principle health benefit is to neutralize or inhibit oxygen derived free radicals. Free radicals are the cause of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Moreover, numerous in-vitro studies have demonstrated that lycopene is particularly effective against prostate cancer. Lycopene, along with the other carotenoids, beta-corotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, help protect and repair cells against DNA damage, thereby helping to prevent premature aging. However, of the four carotenoids, lycopene has by far the most antioxidant activity.

The group of flavonoids called anthocyanins are found in red or purple plant color pigments, known as phytochemicals. Aside from tamarillo, anthocyanins are also found in cranberries, blueberries and red cabbage. These flavonoids are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and they help neutralize free radicals. They can also provide health benefits against diabetes, nuerological diseases, cancer and aging.

Tamarillo is also a good source of vitamin C, as well as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium. One hundred grams of tamarillo fruit pulp has 2g of protien, 1.6g of fiber and about 50 calories.

Tamarillo at a market in Ecuador, where they are known as tomate cimarron.

Images from flickr.com with creative commons licence.

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