Tamarillo is also known by its much older name, which is tree tomato. Tamarillo is a quite new name, which was adopted in New Zealand around 1970, and now is the commercial designation for the fruit.
The tamarillo is believed to be native to the Andes of Peru and probably also Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia, where it is extensively grown. The tamarillo is subtropical and does best, where the temperature remains above 10 ºC. Frost will inflict a lot of damage on the small tree.
The tamarillo plant is a small tree 3 to 5.5 meters high with evergreen leaves, that are heart-shaped, and has a musky odour. The flowers are pale-pink to lavender with yellow stamens and green-purple calyx.
The long-stalked fruit, born singly, or in clusters of 3 to 12, is smooth, egg-shaped but pointed at both ends and capped with the persistent conical calyx. It ranges from 5 -10 cm in length and 4 - 5 cm in width. Skin colour ranges from deep-purple, blood-red, orange to yellow. Flesh colour varies accordingly from orange-red or orange to yellow. While the skin is somewhat tough and unpleasant in flavour, the outer layer of flesh is slightly firm, succulent and bland. The pulp surrounding the seeds in the 2 lengthwise compartments is soft, juicy, sub-acid to sweet. The fruit has a slightly resinous aroma and a taste of mild or underripe tomato.
Ripe tamarillo may be merely cut in half lengthwise, sprinkled with sugar and served for eating by scooping out the flesh and pulp. However, if the peel is removed a lot of possibilities open up. The peeled tamarillo can be used for pie filling, sandwich spread, in stews or as a dessert when sprinkled with sugar and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Commercially peeled sliced tamarillo can be cooked with lemon juice and sugar to a jam or with onions and apples to a chutney.