Although common across New Zealand, the tamarillo is still called a tree tomato in many places around the world. So how did it become the tamarillo in NZ?
Tamarillos are really popular in New Zealand. You will see the name on signs at Farmer’s Markets, growing in backyards across the country, and even hear about them in a variety of recipes. They are a staple in the New Zealand fruit bowl.
But, mention the word tamarillo to our neighbours across the ditch or further afield and You will probably get a blank look. It’s likely they will have no idea what you are referring to!
Although common across New Zealand, this delicious egg-shaped fruit wasn’t always known as a tamarillo, and is still called a tree tomato in many places around the world.
Let’s look at how the ‘tamarillo’ came to be.
What’s In A Name?
So how did the tamarillo get its name and become so popular in little old NZ? First, let’s delve into the origins of this exotic wee treat.
Thought to originate in the Andes of Peru, the tamarillo is a pretty ancient and exotic specimen. Known in Portuguese as a ‘tomate de arvore,’ in Spanish as ‘tomate de arbol’ and called ‘sachatomate’ in Peru. It is so esteemed that it’s classified as one of the “lost foods of the Incas.” Pretty impressive lineage for a fruit that wound up becoming one of NZ’s major commercial crops!
Ideal Growing Conditions
Tamarillo seeds first popped up in NZ in the 1890s and they thrived in our subtropical climate. The tamarillo grows best in temperate climates, and is particularly abundant around Central and South America, although also does well in the less scorching areas of Australia.
This humble but delightful fruit hung around, but didn’t really gain in popularity until WWII, when there was a serious shortage of fruits that were high in vitamin C. From that time onwards, the tamarillo - or tree tomato, as it was still known back then - began its heyday as a commercial crop.
The Evolution Of The Tamarillo
Fast forward a couple of decades and the New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council (yes, there is such a thing!) decided they had a marketing problem. They thought this fruit was far too exotic and interesting to be lumped in with the common old garden tomato, so they decided to give it an equally exotic new name.
Although tamarillos are from South America, the name is not Spanish, but a New Zealand invention. The fruit was originally known as tree tomato, but to avoid confusion with the common tomato, and increase appeal to export customers, the New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council decided to rename it. Council member W. Thompson came up with ‘tamarillo’, claiming it sounded both Māori and Spanish. The new name was officially adopted on 1 February 1967.
Here is a little known fact that may surprise you. The tamarillo was originally a yellow and purple colour. But thanks to a bit of experimentation in an Auckland nursery in the 1920’s, a red-skin variety was developed and is now the most commonly known variation of the fruit. Colours do still vary - from yellow, orange and red to a deep purple colour. Some fruits even have long dark stripes.
How Do You Choose?
The colour is not the only thing that changes between the variations, the flavour also varies. When selecting a tamarillo to suit your taste buds, take note that the red fruits will be more acidic, while yellow and orange fruits are a whole lot sweeter.
If you’ve never tried one of these “lost foods of the Inca,” now is the perfect time to do so, with prime season starting in early autumn and peaking in winter. They’re a great winter immune booster, high in vitamin C and A, iron and antioxidants, and low in calories.
Although related to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and capsicum, these beautiful looking fruits have a unique taste you simply have to try. Give the skin a miss, it’s very bitter, but the juicy interior is an interesting blend of sweetness and tartness. The taste is comparable to a cherry tomato crossed with a passionfruit, with a small hint of kiwifruit.
Are you keen to try the tamarillo? Or maybe you already know and love it? Regardless of your previous taste experience, we are pretty sure you will love it! Not only are they fresh and delicious, but are lovingly grown right here in New Zealand by local growers. Not only that, but we will deliver them right to your door!