On those jaltomato-berries

(Dutch version here!)

The jaltomato (Jaltomata procumbens) is a beautiful nightshade-like plant with edible dark berries from Mexico and Middle-america. Despite what the name might suggest, it doesn’t have  that much to do with tomatoes. It’s originally a more tropical species, but it can perfectly grow in our climate nonetheless, treated as an annual.

The plant itself is a bushy herb that did not grew much higher than one meter here, but it grows in all directions though, and eventually it might topple completely. First it gets beautiful white nightshade flowers, and by the end of summer it gives almost black berries, slightly larger than a blueberry, which can be used similarly. The berries have a taste which is not that very spectacular, but others with a feel for poetry have described it as a mix between grape and tomato, and invoked some other unrelated flavors. I personally think they just have a taste you have to get used to, but which is quite pleasant.

The fruit is fine to eat raw, but also useful for cooking or processing, whether or not combined with other fruits. (We made an apple-jaltomato crumble, of which I do not have made any pictures, which was quite good!) Jam and likewise stuff should be possible too, but I haven’t tried that yet.

In the garden it’s a fairly easy plant. You sow them inside early in the year, and plant them outside after the first frost. Given the growth habit it might be good to support it. The plants grow quite easily, though the berries quite small, so don’t expect a really big yield… I didn’t encounter many problems problems, though there were certain berries that were a bit hard inside, instead of soft and juicy. This may be because one plant grew too far in the shade. The possibility exists that after mild winters the plats does come back from the roots, and that he seeds himself and comes back.  But I can not yet say much about that, I’ve only tried it for one year now….

For those people who are afraid of the the idea of eating nightshade berries, the white flowers (and the rest of the plant) are quite different from both the black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) or deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and if you know both species you’re not likely misidentifying it for one of those…

Verdict: a beautiful and interesting plant, the berries are okay and have something peculiar, both in taste and in appearance. No spectacular yield, and further not a very spectacular plant, and certainly nothing to hype or anything…

(On the other hand, tomatoes did also start as small berries, and potatoes were small tuber which were only formed in late autumn over here, so maybe there is a possibility for selecting interesting varieties?)

This plant is offered relatively rarely. My original seeds came from Vreeken in the Netherlands. I did preserve a few seeds (contact me if you want some), but not enough to fill half the world with jaltomato plants.


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