MANY INGREDIENTS quintessential to Indian cuisines have come from the Americas or Europe. Some are well-known—potato, peanut, chickpea and chilli—but there are some that remain relatively obscure. One such ingredient is the tree tomato (tamarillo) or Solanum betaceum which has its origin in South America.
The tree tomato is so popular in Nagaland that the state government got a certificate for Geographical Indication (GI) for it in 2015. This certificate is provided to products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities innate to that origin. The tree tomato in Nagaland meets these requirements because it has a long history of cultivation and several specific organoleptic characteristics related to taste and colour that evolved over time. Since the Naga tree tomato is usually grown in kitchen gardens and farmers raise the seedlings from the mature old plants, the purity of the crop in the state has been maintained.
The tamarillo tree is found abundantly in kitchen gardens in all districts of the Naga hills, including Kohima, Wokha, Zunheboto, Kiphire, Tuensang, Mon and Phek. It is a small, evergreen tree with heart-shaped leaves and grows to about 3 metres. The fruits appear when the tree is around three years old and are distinctly egg-shaped. They hang in clusters.
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