The Tree Tomato or Tamarillo Gains Popularity Worldwide

16 Jul

tree tomato

A deep red, ultra-ripe and juicy tomarillo.

When is a tomato not a tomato?

When it grows on trees!

While related to the tomato, capsicum, eggplant and the humble potato (they all belong to the Solanaceae family), the tree tomato is an exotic, subtropical fruit that originated in Central and South America. For many decades it’s been cultivated in various parts of Asia, in India and Sri Lanka, and in Australasia, but has now made its way to the tables and gardens of other parts of the world, including the USA, China and Africa.

The Name

While its most common name is tree tomato, in New Zealand its been called a tamarillo since 1967 to avoid people confusing it with the common garden tomato. The name is similar to the name tomato, but also combines the Spanish word amarillo (meaning yellow) with a Maori word tama (that implies leadership). In those days only yellow and purple tree tomatoes were produced.

In some parts of the world it is called a tomate (or tomato) granadilla, and in Holland it is known as the Dutch eggplant.

Colour, Shape and Taste

While there are a number of different types of tree tomatoes, there don’t seem to be any cultivars that have been named. Generally, they are described by colour.

Purple and yellow fruit has been grown in New Zealand since about 1920, though bright red tamarillos have been popular ever since that time. Some red types have darker stripes, while others are a very dark maroon. Orange fruits are also produced.

Egg-shaped, and about the size of goose eggs, tamarillos have a thicker skin than ordinary tomatoes, and their own unique taste. Many people advise peeling them and removing the pips before eating or cooking. But not all skins are tough, and the pips are surrounded by juicy pulp that is delicious, especially if the fruit is very ripe. Some pips can be bitter, so prepare according to taste.

Growing Tree Tomatoes

Tamarillos are not difficult to grow if conditions are right. They will thrive in a frost-free, semi-woodland setting, but need plenty of moisture. They don’t do well in times of drought, and need a light, fertile, well-drained soil. If left “standing” in water for even a short period of time, the tree may die. They don’t do well in tightly compacted soil.

The trees have a shallow root system and wide-spreading branches should be trimmed to avoid possible wind damage. They are easily grown from seed, but seedlings should be pruned during the first year when they get to a height of around a metre. This will encourage the plant to branch rather than develop a broad upper surface.


Like all tomatoes, tree tomatoes are bursting with anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. They are low in carbohydrates and sodium, high in potassium, and contain various important trace elements including copper and manganese.

If you’re interested in step by step information on growing tomatoes, don’t forget to look at our book How To Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes.