The tamarillo, or Cyphomandra belacea, is a relative of the tomato plant to some extent. Tamarillos are native to South America. They are small, half-woody trees reaching anywhere between ten and eighteen feet tall (3-6 meters). In fact, they are commonly referred to as tomato trees.
Many people grow these trees in the landscape. As long as there is suitable wind protection provided, as they have very shallow roots, growing tamarillo trees is quite easy. The trees require well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. They also need full sun, but in warmer climates prefer partial shade during the afternoon.
Tamarillo plants benefit from the addition of mulch as well. This not only allows them to better retain moisture but helps keep weeds down too. Tamarillos are cared for much like tomato plants. However, they do not like too much water, especially standing water, which can kill the plant. Newly planted trees need to be pruned as well to encourage branching. In addition, annual pruning is also recommended.
While these plants are usually resistant to most pests and diseases, they can suffer from occasional problems. Both green aphids and fruit flies often attack tamarillo trees. On rare occasions, nematodes may become a problem. Powdery mildew can affect the tree as well but this can normally be treated fairly easily.
Tamarillos typically bloom in early spring, having small pink flowers that are somewhat fragrant. The leaves may also have a somewhat pungent smell. Eventually, the blooms give way to small, egg-shaped fruit. This fruit is edible and its flavor varies from tree to tree. Generally, tamarillo fruits are similar to that of tomatoes, only much more bitter tasting.
The skin of tamarillos is also tougher. Colors vary depending on the variety, from yellow or red to purple. Unripened fruit is slightly toxic. Therefore, tamarillo fruits should only be harvested once they have developed their intended color. The fruits can be stored in the refrigerator for up to ten weeks. Unlike tomatoes, both the seeds and skin are removed prior to cooking.
When eaten raw, tamarillo fruits are usually cut lengthwise and sprinkled with sugar for taste. This is done to sweeten the bitter-tasting fruit. The pulpy flesh is then scooped out and eaten. Various uses of tamarillos include adding them to salsas, jams, jellies, and sauces. They are also commonly served with ice cream or sherbet. Other people enjoy eating them on pizza or sandwiches.