A sweet and fragrant stone fruit that's ripe enough to drip juice down your chin is one of the greatest joys of summer. On that nice, hot day in August when you want to enjoy some sweet, refreshing magic by the pool, what do you reach for first? A peach? A nectarine? And what’s the difference anyway?
Nectarines and peaches are almost genetically identical. Nectarines are essentially peaches in disguise, but they’re regarded as different fruits commercially. Generally speaking, the main difference is the fuzz. A recessive gene in nectarines affects their ability to make plant “hair.” You might say that nectarines are actually just bald peaches! And every so often you can spot a nectarine growing naturally on one of our peach trees. Sneaky!
Origin and Name: Peaches and nectarines share a common ancestor from China. Peaches of legend conferred immortality and were treasured by ancient Emperors. In the early 17th century a horticulturist by the name of George Minifie is said to have brought the first from England to the United States, planting peach trees at his Estate of Buckland in Virginia. Nectarines take the name from the word “nectar,” meaning “food of the gods.” And the scientific name for peaches is “persica,” which alludes to an early European belief that peaches came from Persia. The Ancient Romans called the peach “malum persicum” or “Persian apple,” which later became “pêche” in French and then “peach” in English.
- Taste and Appearance: Different varieties of peaches and nectarines differ in their texture, taste, and aroma. As with peaches, nectarines can be white or yellow, clingstone or freestone. On average, they're slightly smaller and sweeter than their cousins and their lack of fuzz can make their skins appear more reddish. The deeper, sometimes purplish coloration of nectarines contributes to a mistaken belief that they’re hybrids of peaches and plums. Not true! Peaches and nectarines also share a delicious sweetness. Both white peaches and white nectarines have less acidity than their yellow counterparts, making them sweeter. Here at Frog Hollow, we pay close attention to the sugar content in our fruit from one orchard to another, one season to the next. Rachel Sullivan keeps detailed records of how sweet the different varieties of peach and nectarine are that we grow by measuring their “brix" level at different points of the harvest season. Here’s how the brix of our average peach and nectarine compares to the fruit you’d find in an average grocery store:
|Average Commercial Brix # *
|Average Frog Hollow Brix #
- Health Benefits: Peaches and nectarines are nutritionally very similar. Where the difference lies is between Frog Hollow’s stone fruit and the peaches and nectarines of the average grocery store. At our farm, we’re thinking about nutrients throughout each tree’s life: from what it needs when it’s a tiny baby, all the way into adolescence and adulthood—the maintenance required, the care for the soil, the water, the time, and the energy we must put in. We don’t harvest for shelf life or travel time. We harvest for peak ripeness. Not only can you taste the difference, but the extra work we do here makes each resulting peach better for you. When plants photosynthesize, they convert light energy into good sugars and minerals. The better the soil, the better the plant can photosynthesize. And the more the plant can photosynthesize, the less prone to pests and diseases it is. Letting nature’s tiny soil microbes do their thing (like we do) strengthens soil and produces better food. Food that’s good for us is better for the ecosystem in which it was grown. And for the planet too!
- Varieties & Where to Find: Peaches and nectarines now grow throughout the world’s temperate regions, but find a uniquely suited home in California’s Mediterranean climate. More than 95 percent of the nectarines grown in the United States are from here. On Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, we grow over twelve varieties of peaches that are harvested from mid-June to early September. And we grow seven yellow-fleshed varieties of nectarines and two white-fleshed varieties that are typically harvested from early July to early September.
- Culinary Uses: The firmness of nectarines makes them great for cooking, grilling, and salads. Peaches are often a favorite for baking. (Although, have you ever had a nectarine crumble? Because yum.) Many bakers and chefs will remove a peach’s skin for pies or jams because it can become tougher when cooked. For nectarines, the skin makes less of a difference, so many bakers leave it on.