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History

From tree tomato to tamarillo - a traditional Kiwi food icon. 

A relative of the potato, tomato, eggplant and capsicum pepper, the tree tomato is native to Central and South America.  Listed among the lost foods of the Incas and known as the ‘tomate de arbol’, tree tomatoes have all but disappeared from their native habitat.

Tamarillos were first introduced into New Zealand from Asia in the late 1800’s.  Originally only yellow and purple-fruited strains were produced.  The red tamarillo was developed in the 1920’s by an Auckland nurseryman from seed from South America.

Other red strains appeared soon afterwards and continued re-selection of these by growers has led to the large, high quality varieties being grown commercially today.

The commercial production of tamarillos began on a small scale in the 1930s.  During World War II demand for tamarillos grew, as the supply of other fruits high in vitamin C was restricted.

In 1967 the fruit’s commercial name was officially changed from tree tomato to tamarillo to avoid confusion with the common garden tomato.   One of the members of the then New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council, W Thompson, cleverly combined a Maori word and a Spanish word to make up the new name.  “Tama” implies leadership in Maori.  The inspiration for “rillo” is not known.   Some believe “amarillo” (the Spanish word for yellow) was the source.

In the horticultural boom of 1970s fruit production increased markedly which led to increasing professionalism among growers with emphasis on pest control and quality management systems.

Today demand for the fruit remains strong due to an increasing awareness of its unique flavour and nutritional qualities.  The clean, green New Zealand climate provides ideal growing conditions and growers work hard to delivery a quality product to the customer.   Growers use modern pest management techniques, along with traditional methods, to produce tamarillos that taste great, are highly nutritious and free of unwanted residues.

Tamarillos are grown on a commercial scale in a few other countries (particularly Colombia, Ecuador, with smaller plantings in parts of Australia, California, Africa and Asia).