Getting the Taste of the Tamarillo

Tamarillo, whole and split

hide captionThe tamarillo may look like a bit like a tomato, but it has a zing all its own.

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A red fruit showing up in stores has an egg shape, a tomato texture and a flavor all its own. The tamarillo's origins are in the Andes. Debbie Elliott talks to a Peruvian restaurant owner in Oregon about the fruit.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Mangos? Mundane. Kiwi? Old hat. Jicama? Ubiquitous. Globalization has brought exotic produce to our doorstep. But this week we found something in a nearby grocery store that we didn't know quite what to do with. It's pretty, about the size and shape of an egg, but a deep purplish, red color with a subtle, fruity smell, almost like a plum. It's called a tamarillo. But it turns out that's a name made up by the New Zealanders who grow and export them. The fruit is actually native to the Andes. Joining us now to talk about this fruit is Doris Rodriguez de Platt, a native of Peru. She's on the line from her restaurant, Andina(ph), in Portland, Oregon.

Ms. DORIS RODRIGUEZ DE PLATT (Owner, Andina): Hello. How are you?

ELLIOTT: I'm good. How are you today?

Ms. DE PLATT: Fine, thank you.

ELLIOTT: So what do you call this fruit?

Ms. DE PLATT: We have two different names. The most common names are tomata riarbor chitomato(ph), and the other name is sachatomate. We believe that the sacha is a--kachua(ph) or--that means false. And if you put the two together it will be a `false tomato.'

ELLIOTT: A false tomato?

Ms. DE PLATT: Yes.

ELLIOTT: Kachua is the language of the Incas?

Ms. DE PLATT: Yes.

ELLIOTT: So does this taste like a tomato?

Ms. DE PLATT: It looks like tomato. The shape is, as you described, an egg shape, that when you cut lengthwise you see--it looks like tomato. The difference is when you taste it. It's sweeter and tangy.

ELLIOTT: How do you eat it?

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, my, in my town and in the villages close to my town, we grow sachatomates in most of our--we say back yards or gardens. So once you see the green fruit becomes yellow or red, and then you take off easily and, as children, you just bite it. Of course, the first reaction is a little acidic so it just hurts a little bit. But after that it's absolutely refreshing and very good to our mouths. Sometimes, I remember my cousins tried to be brave enough to put the whole fruit in their mouth, and they did it and splashed all the juices around and it was just a good way to entertain ourselves.

ELLIOTT: I have a few sachatomates here...

Ms. DE PLATT: Yes.

ELLIOTT: ...and some sugar.

Ms. DE PLATT: Are they already with a good color?

ELLIOTT: Yes. They're a nice deep purplish, reddish color.

Ms. DE PLATT: Cut them lengthwise...

ELLIOTT: OK.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: With a spoon take the purp--and if you are more aggressive, taste it without sugar. What do you think about it?

(Soundbite of smacking sounds)

ELLIOTT: Very sweet.

Ms. DE PLATT: Is it?

ELLIOTT: With a little tang.

Ms. DE PLATT: Yeah. Yeah. Some other times, put them in boiling water for maybe four, five minutes. You see the--peel it easily, taking off. And with the peeled sachatomates, you can blend with water or ice and a little bit of milk; put a little bit of sugar, it's a refreshing drink.

Some other times we use these sachatomate as--to prepare a hot sauce. If you grind it with a hot pepper we call rocoto, and you put garlic and a little bit of salt and water, you get a blended mixture that is very good with boiled potatoes. And always, Mom brings a bowl of potatoes with fresh corn we call chokelo(ph), to satisfy your appetite when you peel the potato and dip in the sauce. And it's absolutely great.

ELLIOTT: When you first opened your restaurant or when you first moved to Oregon, did you find it hard to find the sachatomates?

Ms. DE PLATT: Well, so far, we didn't present sachatomates because it was hard to get it. As a matter of fact, just this week is coming a box of sachatomates from New Zealand, and we will expose our clients to this exotic and flavorful fruit, so we are excited.

ELLIOTT: Doris Rodriguez de Platt, owner of Andina Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Andina, by the way, was chosen as The Oregonian newspaper's restaurant of the year. Thanks for being with us, Ms. Platt.

Ms. DE PLATT: Thank you very much. And it's an honor for us sharing the good things that we have in the Andes.

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