When the weather begins to warm up and summer rolls around, I look forward to ripe, sugary fruits, especially peaches and nectarines. A good peach or nectarine is firm, fleshy, and sweet, with a hint of acidity. Part of the stone fruit family, these fruits are ubiquitous in the summer. You can find them all across the globe, and in America, peaches are one of the top 10 most consumed fruits in the country.
If you’ve come to this article to learn more about peaches and nectarines, you may be wondering: what are the differences between the two? When are they in season? How do I pick the ripest fruits? Read on below to find out!
Peaches and Nectarines
In season: Late April through mid September
Differences: Peaches have a soft, fuzzy coating on the outer skin, while nectarines are smooth and often smaller than peaches
Flavor: The interior of peaches and nectarines are similar in flavor and texture
How to store: Store at room temperature in a loosely sealed paper bag for 1-3 days until fully ripened, then store in fridge to halt ripening
When are Peaches and Nectarines in Season?
In the United States, peaches and nectarines are generally available between late April and mid-September. Warmer regions of the U.S. produce the fruits on the earlier end of the range, while colder areas may not have availability until July.
Certain varieties, such as the Chilean nectarine from South America, are in season during winter.
Peaches vs Nectarines
Contrary to popular belief, peaches and nectarines are actually part of the same species. The main difference between the two is that peaches have a soft, fuzzy coating on the outer skin, while nectarines are smooth and often smaller than peaches. The interior of peaches and nectarines are similar in flavor and texture.
Can you substitute nectarines for peaches and vice versa? Yes, for the most part. Peaches have slightly tougher, fuzzier skin, so they may not be the best substitute in a recipe calling for unpeeled nectarines. But for any peeled applications, you will likely not be able to tell the difference between the two.
There are two major ways of distinguishing peach and nectarine varieties: by color and by stone type.
- Yellow: Yellow nectarines and peaches are sweet, somewhat tart, and often tinged with orange and red tones on the outer skin.
- White: White nectarines and peaches are thought to be sweeter than their yellow counterparts, with streaks of red on the skin.
Stone (or pit)
- Freestone: Freestone nectarines and peaches freely detach from their pits making them easy to slice a large batch for cooking or baking.
- Clingstone: With clingstone nectarines and peaches, the fruit clings tightly to the pit. These are more challenging to remove the pits cleanly.
Donut peaches, also known as flat or Saturn peaches, are so named because they bear a similar shape to a doughnut. These peaches are sweeter and slightly less fuzzy than the traditional variety. Though less common, donut nectarines can also be found in certain areas.
How to Choose a Ripe Fruit
You can purchase peaches and nectarines at your local grocery store, farmers market, or farm stand. You may even be able to go peach picking and bring home a hand-picked basket of fruit!
Contrary to popular belief, the reddish-blush coloring on the surface of the fruit is not necessarily an indication of ripeness. Instead, when picking fruit, look for a deep-yellow orange color on the background of the skin. Stay away from fruits with green hues near the stem, as they won’t ripen properly.
Make sure to choose a peach or nectarine with a sweet fruity aroma. Next, touch the fruit; if it feels soft, it is ripe. Ripe peaches and nectarines will overripen very quickly and should be eaten immediately. Fruits with a little give can be stored on your counter for a day or two until ready. A peach with some wrinkling around the stem indicates it has fully ripened; the wrinkling comes from evaporation after the fruit has been picked and leads to a deeper, more intense flavor.
How to Store
Store the fruit at room temperature until fully ripened; this could take anywhere from 1-3 days. To quickly ripen a peach or nectarine, you can keep the fruit in a loosely sealed paper bag. Once the fruit is fully ripened, store it in the fridge to halt the ripening process.
How to Prep and Cook
Both peaches and nectarines are great for a variety of raw and cooked applications. For example, I like to slice the fruit, remove the pit, and add it to a salad for sweetness. You can also can the fruit to enjoy all year round or bake into a pie or cobbler.
How to Freeze
Follow these easy steps to freeze nectarines and peaches. You can freeze them with or without the skin on.
- Skin the peaches/nectarines (optional): With your knife, slit an ‘X’ across the bottom of the fruit. Add whole fruit to a large pot of boiling water. Let boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute until the skin begins to peel away. Strain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel skin off fruit.
- Slice the fruit: Halve, pit, and slice fruit as desired.
- Add lemon juice to prevent browning: Toss fruit in a mixture of lemon juice and water for 5 minutes. I use 1 tablespoon lemon juice per 1 cup of water. Use enough water to coat fruit thoroughly. Alternatively, you can use ascorbic acid.
- Freeze: Using a slotted spoon, lay fruit in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze for at least 4 hours up to overnight. Finally, transfer to a Ziploc bag. Frozen peaches and nectarines should last between 6-12 months in the freezer, though the optimal texture and flavor peaks at 3-4 months.
Recipes with Peaches and Nectarines
Here are some great recipes to try out featuring these delicious stone fruits:
- Peach Frangipane Puff Pastry Tarts
- Skillet Peach Crisp with Ginger and Pecans
- Old-Fashioned Peach Pie
- No-Churn Peach Cobbler Ice Cream
- Peach Cobbler
- Summer Peaches with Baked Meringue
- Peach Galette
- Grilled Salmon with Peach Salsa