Tree Tomato? What is a Tree Tomato?!?

s I wandered around the executive lounge at the Hilton Nairobi hotel, I noticed in an area of fresh fruit a somewhat small reddish object shaped almost like an egg but looking like a distorted plum.

Tree Tomato Tamarillo

A tree tomato or tamarillo. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

“Excuse me. What is this?” I asked the attendant in the lounge, pointing at this unfamiliar fruit.

“That is a tree tomato”, she responded.

“Tree tomato?”

“Yes, sir”, she said, smiling as the question marks were popping out of my head in different colors. I had never heard of the name tree tomato.

Curious, I took one to sample. After sitting down at a small table, I cut one open.

The inside of the fruit was indeed reminiscent of a tomato — if you applied a little imagination.

Tasting a Tree Tomato

I then tasted it. My tongue was greeted with a pungent and tangy flavor that was both slightly sweet and slightly bitter and did have a hint of a tomato note — but it was no tomato. I then learned that it was the skin which contributed to the bitterness; so I scooped out the flesh — whose firmness and juiciness reminded me of a plum — with a spoon. The flavor did not improve much; and the seeds were larger and more firm than those found in a tomato.

Overall, the tree tomato was not terrible; but it is also not a fruit which I would crave to eat. I had a difficult time attempting to finish it — and was ultimately unsuccessful.

What Is a Tree Tomato — and How Can It Be Used?

Curious, I searched for the term tree tomato on the Internet and found that it is a nickname for tamarillo, according to this article found at Wikipedia. I have heard of a tamarillo but I do not recall ever having tried one.

Native to countries in northern South America, the tamarillo is apparently popular in certain local regions around the world. I am guessing that Kenya is in one of those regions.

A cursory search on FlyerTalk revealed that the tamarillo is used in a special juice known as a Martebe in which it is mixed with passion fruit; and meats such as chicken can be braised in the fruit. You can also find menu items such as octopus carpaccio served with frisee and braised vanilla tamarillo.

The tamarillo can be used for a wide variety of food applications, according to the aforementioned article — including being added as an ingredient to stews, juices, teas, compotes, preserves, sauces, chutneys and curries; or used in desserts. It can also be eaten raw.


If it were not for the seeds, a tamarillo might be something which I could learn to like. This is probably one of those fruits to which I have never paid any attention or was not aware; but I would not be surprised if it is destined to one day eventually become as popular as a kiwi fruit.

Have you ever tried a tree tomato or tamarillo? If so, what do you think about it?

All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Tree Tomato? What is a Tree Tomato?!?”

  1. icicle says:

    THIS is why we travel. To see and learn new things. To explore the mundane yet fascinating aspects of life that we are unfamiliar with beforehand.

    What interests me is that it was native to South America yet found its way to Africa. Most things went the other route. I’ve heard of several foods coming to the Americas from Africa, but never the reverse. I suspect it had something to do with the slave trade but that focused on the West Coast of Africa. And South America was primarily colonized by Spain, with Dutch and French influences as well. Yet Kenya was colonized by the U.K.

    I realize that I’m fascinated by how this fruit made its way across the Atlantic but it seems wrong somehow to focus on that considering the ugly genocide of the slave trade that made the opposite journey.

    But this is indeed why we travel: to understand ourselves and the world we live in…and how it became that way.

    I also want to know what the native inhabitants of South America called the fruit. Because it sure wasn’t originally called tamarillo!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Those are good thoughts and questions, icicle

      …and I completely agree that this is why we travel: to see and learn — and taste — new things.

      I find even the most minute of differences between cultures interesting — even if it is something as simple as a tree tomato…

  2. May says:

    I am from Australia and I used to grow tamarillos in our backyard in Sydney! The trees are about 2 meters tall and has large leaves. They produced a lot of fruit each year. We had 2 trees – one had red tamarillos and one had yellow tamarillos. The yellow ones were sweeter than the red ones. We ate the fruit as was, and gave a lot away to friends and neighbors. I bought the plants from a nursery. They lasted about 4 years.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Is four years their typical life span, May? It sounds like the tamarillo is a hardy plant that yields an abundance of fruit.

      I have never tried a yellow tamarillo. Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity.

      Thank you, May.

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