Tamarillo (botanical name Solanum betaceum) is a nice-looking, semi-woody, partially deciduous or evergreen shrub or an undersized tree. This plant is also very fragile and has a shallow root system. The tamarillo trees grow up to a height of anything between 10 feet and 18 feet. Rarely would you find a tree growing up to 25 feet.
Tamarillo is a member of the flowering plant family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshade family). This tree or shrub is well-known for bearing an elliptical edible fruit called tamarillo.
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The evergreen, ovate leaves of tamarillo plant appear alternately on the branches and have a musky odour. They are somewhat heart-shaped at their base at piercing at the apex. The leaves measure about 4 inches to 13 1/2 inches in length and are about 1 1/2 inches to 4 3/4 inches broad. They are slender and have soft bristles along with very prominent veins. Strong winds easily tatter these leaves.
The flowers of tamarillo are also fragrant. The plant bears small flowers measuring anything between 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch that appear in small, loose bunches close to the branch tips. Each tamarillo flower has five light pink or lavender lobes that are pointed. In addition, it comes with five conspicuous yellow hued stamens and a greenish-purple calyx. Usually, the flowers of tamarillo are self-pollinating. If you completely shut out wind to prevent the branches even from stirring, it may affect the pollination adversely. However, this problem may be overcome if bees are present to transport the pollens. Flowers that are not pollinated usually drop from the tree prematurely on their own. Usually, tamarillo flowers bloom towards the end of summer or in the fall. However, they may also emerge at any time of the year.
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The smooth egg-shaped fruit called tamarillo is borne at the end of a long stalk and it dangles from the branch. The fruits may be borne alone or come in clusters of anything between 3 and 12. Both ends of the tamarillo fruits are pointed. The size of the fruits may vary. They may measure 2 inches to 4 inches in length, while their width may vary from 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches. The exterior of the fruit may vary too - tamarillo fruits may come in orange, blood red, deep purple, yellow or even red hues. Some fruits may even have faint deep stripes running along their entire length.
The fruits' flesh color may also vary according to their external color - from orange, orange-red to yellow or cream-yellow. The skin of tamarillo is slightly tough and has a disagreeable flavour. The external layer of the fruit's flesh is somewhat firm, juicy and has a bland taste, while the pulp that encloses the seed in two lateral sections is soft, succulent and has a sweet/ tart flavour. Usually, the fruits having a yellow skin and flesh are somewhat sweeter. In dark purple and red fruits, the pulp is black, while it is yellowish in fruits with orange or yellow skin. The seeds of tamarillo are also edible. They are thin, almost flat, and circular shaped and compared to the true tomato, they are larger as well as harder.
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As the tamarillo fruit contains a number of nutrients, it is used for several therapeutic purposes. Tamarillos contain high levels of potassium, which is useful in controlling the blood pressure and heart rate. This essential mineral is useful for balancing the harmful actions of sodium on the heart. Aside from potassium, tamarillos also contain magnesium as well as various other minerals, which are necessary for the normal functioning of our cardiovascular system. Tamarillo also contains elevated levels of dietary fiber, which is useful in slowing down the absorption of bad or LDL cholesterols in our body. This fruit possesses antioxidant activity and, hence, it is useful in protecting the heart from any type of oxidative stress. At the same time, tamarillos also lessen the chances of developing cardiac disorders, including stroke and heart attack.
Tamarillos enclose citric acid, which is believed to be useful in preventing the development as well as growth of kidney stones. In fact, citric acid offers a number of protective benefits by means of flushing out surplus calcium and uric acid from our body along with excreta. The acidic taste of tamarillo fruits is attributed to citric acid enclosed by them. When you incorporate the tree tomato or tamarillo into your diet, it lessens the chances of kidney stone development and growth. Nevertheless, there is no scientific evidence that proves that consumption of tamarillos help in preventing kidney stones.
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Tamarillos or tree tomatoes are rich in phytonutrient content and they aid in reducing the chances of developing certain forms of cancer, since they possess antioxidant properties. It has been established that anthocyanins possess anti-cancer qualities. Similarly, studies undertaken in laboratories have shown that lycopene also works to slow down cancer cell growth. Tamarillos possess antioxidant properties and, hence, consuming these fruits helps to protect the cells in our body from oxidative stress, thereby preventing them from becoming cancerous.
Finds of most recent studies have indicated that free radicals as well as oxidative stress are responsible for various diseases and health conditions. Free radicals are detrimental as they damage the cells in our body, thereby impairing their normal functioning. Tamarillos contain phytonutrients that offer outstanding antioxidant activity and, at the same time, reduce the chances of developing degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart problems, cancer, cataracts, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and so on. The antioxidant property of tree tomato has been attributed to the presence of vitamins A, C and E along with a number of other phytonutrients.
It is unfortunate that people are yet to fully utilize the antioxidant properties of tamarillos. In fact, the flesh as well as the peel of this fruit is loaded with antioxidants. Findings of several scientific studies have revealed that the antioxidant activity of tamarillo peel is higher owing to the presence of flavonoids and phenols, while the antioxidant activity of the tree tomato flesh is attributed to the presence of carotenoids and anthocyanins.
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As of now, no significant scientific studies have been undertaken to ascertain the health benefits of tamarillos vis-à-vis diabetes. According to initial evaluations of the fruit it suggests that it contains chlorogenic acid, which possesses the aptitude to bring down the blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. Moreover, since this fruit possesses outstanding antioxidant properties, it can be helpful in lessening oxidative stress on the different organs of the body, especially the liver and pancreas, which may result in diabetes.
It has been found that tamarillo or tree tomato offers a wide range of antimicrobial activities, which is attributed to the presence of protein in the fruit. Protein works to slow down the enzyme invertase activity. Some studies undertaken to ascertain the health benefits of tamarillos have shown that the protective action of this fruit helps to deal with a wide assortment of plant pathogens. Since tamarillos are loaded with antioxidants, they are very likely to offer us several other health benefits, especially in preventing infections.
Aside from the several therapeutic uses of tamarillo fruits, they are also employed for culinary purposes. The ripened tamarillo fruits can be consumed raw out of hand. The peel of the fruit has a bitter flavour, but offers a variety of antioxidants such as anthocyanins. In order to remove its peel, usually tamarillo fruits are subjected to temperature shock - first blanched in hot water for about 2 to 3 minutes and subsequently put in cold water. Generally, the flesh of the fruit is scooped out with a spoon and salt, sugar or lime juice is sprinkled over the scooped/ cut tamarillo fruit. This helps to lessen the acidity of the fruit and allows you to take delight in its raw flesh. Since the juice of tamarillo fruits can stain your clothes, you ought to be extra careful while peeling or eating the fruit raw.
In South America, people often prepare tamarillo shake by blending the flesh of the cut fruit in milk, sugar and ice. This beverage is said to be a refreshing. In addition, often tamarillo sauce is used in place of tomato sauce. This fruit can be easily used in various recipes where you would use tomato. Since, this fruit is rich in pectin content, it is excellent for making jam, ketchup or chutney. Currently, tamarillo chutney prepared by New Zealanders is very popular. You can use it in sandwich, vegan salads or other desserts. In fact, when taken with ice creams, tamarillo jelly tastes wonderful. Apart from imparting a distinct flavour, tamarillo imparts color to your pastas, vegetable stews, and other dishes. Similar to berries, tamarillo can also be used for making pie.
Never cut tamarillo fruit on any wooden table or any other surface that is permeable, because the juice of the fruit will cause ineradicable stain.
Tamarillo trees or shrubs are not only attractive, but also sufficiently small for growing into many areas of a home landscape, provided the location has a proper drainage system. These trees/ shrubs thrive best in total sunlight, barring in very hot and arid conditions, when they do better in partial shade. In addition, these plants also need to be sheltered from strong winds.
It has been found that tamarillo shrubs have a preference for a fertile, light soil, which contains a lot of organic materials. In addition, the trees require well-drained soil. These plants may be killed even when the ground has standing water for few days. Since, the tamarillo trees are shallow rooted, it is not possible to undertake deep cultivation. However, you can undertake light cultivation to get rid of weeds.
Tamarillo plants are unable to withstand prolonged periods of drought. Hence, they need to be supplied with copious amounts of water when the weather conditions are very dry. Mulching the plants may be very useful, especially to conserve moisture during such periods.
Chemical analysis of the tamarillo fruits has shown that they contain sufficient amounts of vitamins, proteins, various essential minerals and dietary fiber. In addition, these fruits contain rich amounts of carotenoid pigments, such as β-cryptoxanthin, β-carotene, ζ-carotene, lutein as well as zeaxanthin. All these carotenoid pigments demonstrate provitamin A activities. Collectively, these carotenoid pigments provide us with vitamin A worth 2475 international units (IU) for every 100 grams of the fruit, which is about 50 percent of our daily requirement. Furthermore, tamarillos enclose other vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin B6. Together, vitamin C and vitamin A make the antioxidant levels of tamarillos pretty high.
Tamarillos also contain a number of phytonutrients, such as anthocyanins, phenols, flavonoids and carotenoids. Combined, these phytonutrients make the antioxidant activities of tamarillo fruits quite high. The color of tamarillo fruits varies depending on the phytochemicals enclosed by them. It has been found that while the red variety of tamarillo fruits contains more anthocyanins, the yellow fruits contain elevated amounts of carotenoids. In addition to these nutrients, tamarillos also enclose citric and malic acids, which are responsible for the fruits' acidic tangy taste. Scientists have isolated several other bioactive chemicals from tamarillos and all of them have nutritional as well as industrial value.
The tamarillo fruit is extensively used in the form of a food ingredient, but it needs to be used cautiously. Although rare, consumption of this fruit or foods prepared with it may result in severe allergic reactions as well as respiratory problems in some people who are susceptible to allergies form other plant species belonging to the same family, such as tomato, tomatillo and eggplant.
Ideally, you should harvest tamarillo fruits when their external color has changed to yellow or red, which may be the feature of a specific variety. Tamarillo can be harvested just by pulling the fruits in a snapping motion from the trees along with the stem. If stored in the refrigerator after harvesting, tamarillo fruits will remain viable for up to 10 weeks. However, the skin of the fruit may become discolored if they are stored in temperatures under 38°F.