Nectarines are a type of stone fruit that are closely related to peaches. They have smooth, firm skin ranging from yellow to red and juicy, sweet flesh. Nectarines are a popular summer fruit enjoyed fresh in salads, desserts, smoothies, and as snacks.
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What is a Nectarine?
A nectarine is a type of stone fruit closely related to the peach and is considered a peach cultivar. It is known by other names, such as a stoneless peach or a fuzzless peach.
Nectarines are part of the rose family (Rosaceae) and the Prunus genus, together with other fruits like cherry, apricot, almond, and plum, and they are all stone fruits.
Visually, nectarines resemble peaches, with a round, slightly flattened shape and a deep crease on one side. However, unlike peaches, nectarines have smooth, hairless skin ranging from yellow to red with bright orange or yellow flesh.
The flesh is juicy and slightly tangy, with a delicate aroma and a sweet, somewhat tart flavor. It typically seems to have more acidity than regular peaches.
Nectarines are firm and smooth with tender, juicy flesh. They have a single large seed in the center, removed before eating or cooking. Nectarines are generally in season during the summer months, from June to September, and are a popular fruit for eating fresh and for use in baking, cooking, and making jams and preserves.
Nectarines can typically be classified into two main groups:
- Clingstone Nectarines: As the name suggests, the flesh of these fruits tightly clings to the pit, making them more difficult to remove. Clingstone nectarines are usually smaller and are typically available earlier in the season.
- Freestone Nectarines: These fruits have flesh that easily separates from the pit, making them much easier to eat or use in recipes. Freestone nectarines are often larger and sweeter than clingstone nectarines and are usually available later in the season.
The History of Nectarines
The nectarine is believed to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and was later introduced to Europe in the late 16th century. Today, nectarines are widely cultivated in many countries, including the United States, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.
Despite common misconceptions, nectarines are not a hybrid between a plum and a peach. Instead, they result from a recessive allele that causes the lack of fuzz on the fruit.
Historical records suggest that nectarines were first mentioned in England in 1616, although they are believed to have existed in China over 2000 years ago. They were likely grown in Persia, Greece, and Italy before the Spanish introduced them to the Americas.
Typically, data regarding nectarine production is merged with data about peach production, which means we don’t have an accurate estimate. This might be because some peach trees also bear nectarines! It is believed that California produces most of the nectarines in the US.
What Does a Nectarine Taste Like?
A nectarine tastes similar to peach but has a slightly different flavor and texture. Nectarines are generally sweeter and more aromatic than peaches, with a firmer texture and a more delicate flavor.
A nectarine is juicy, fragrant, and slightly tangy when eaten raw. The flesh is firm but tender, with smooth skin that can be eaten or easily removed.
When cooked, nectarines become softer and sweeter, with a more concentrated flavor. They are often used in desserts such as pies, tarts, and crisps, where their natural sweetness and fragrance shine.
Nectarines can also be grilled or roasted, caramelizing them and intensifying their sweetness while adding a smoky flavor.
How to Tell When a Nectarine is Ripe
Here are a few tips to help you select the best fruit:
|A ripe nectarine should have a bright, even color. Avoid fruits that have a dull or uneven appearance.
|Gently squeeze the fruit to see if it yields slightly to pressure. Avoid fruits that are overly soft or mushy.
|Sniff the nectarine to check for a sweet, fruity aroma. The fruit may not be fully ripe if it has little to no scent.
|Look for nectarines with smooth skin free from any apparent bruises or cuts.
|Buy in season
|Nectarines are at their best from May through September, so try to buy them during this time to ensure maximum freshness and flavor.
Are Nectarines and Peaches Related?
At first glance, these two fruits might look like long-lost twins separated at birth. And honestly, they are because, genetically speaking, they’re practically identical. They are considered to be the same species, Prunus persica. The primary differences between the two fruits are seen in the fruits’ skin and firmness.
- Skin: Nectarines have smooth skin, while peaches have fuzzy skin.
- Firmness and size: nectarines are usually smaller and firmer than peaches, which tend to be larger and softer.
Cooking with Nectarines
Here are the steps required for preparing nectarines:
- Peeling: The skin of nectarines can be tough and bitter, so peeling it off is often recommended before cooking. You can do this by blanching the fruit in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then plunging it into an ice bath. The skin should easily slip off with a knife or your fingers.
- Removing the pit: Nectarines have a large pit in the center that needs to be removed before cooking. You can do this by cutting the fruit in half and gently twisting the halves in opposite directions. The pit should come out quickly.
The fruit is often used in sweet desserts, such as pies, crumbles, ice cream, and cobblers. You can also use it in savory dishes like salads, chutneys, and salsas.
Here are three examples of dishes that use cooked nectarines:
Nectarine Cobbler: Nectarines are a juicy and sweet addition to the traditional cobbler recipe, creating a delicious contrast between the creaminess of the batter and the sweetness of the nectarines. Who doesn’t love a warm, comforting cobbler on a chilly day?
Grilled Peach, Chicken, and Ricotta Pizza: They say you shouldn’t put pineapple on pizza. But what about nectarines? The sweetness of the peaches and the richness of the cheese perfectly balance the saltiness of the chicken, making for a delicious pizza experience.
Goat Milk Fettuccine with Spicy Corn Fritters + Sweet Nectarine: This recipe is a real winner because it combines many different flavors and textures. The goat milk fettuccine is a unique twist on a classic pasta dish, and the spicy corn fritters add a nice kick of heat and crunch. But the star of the show is the sweet nectarine, which brings a burst of juicy sweet flavor to every bite.
Nectarine Upside-Down Cake: The nectarines in this cake are caramelized to perfection and nestled in a fluffy cake batter. The result is a dessert that’s both comforting and sophisticated.
How to Store Nectarines
Here are some storage techniques for nectarines that will improve their shelf-life:
|On the Counter
|Nectarines can be left at room temperature until fully ripe. Once they are ripe, you should eat them within two to three days.
|In the Fridge
|Place the nectarines in a plastic or paper bag and store them in the crisper drawer. They can last up to five days this way.
|Nectarines can also be frozen for later use. First, wash and slice the nectarines. Then, freeze them on a baking sheet for 1-2 hours. Once they are frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe container or bag. Frozen nectarines can last up to six months.
|Cut the nectarines into slices and remove the pit. Place the slices on a baking sheet and dry them in an oven or dehydrator until they are chewy and dry. You can store them dried in an airtight container for several months – and up to a year.
Nutritional Benefits of Nectarines
Nectarines have some of the same health benefits and nutrients as peaches.
First, nectarines are a good source of vitamin C, which can boost the immune system and help fight infections. Nectarines can aid in weight management by being low in calories and high in fiber, which helps people feel fuller while also aiding digestion.
Consuming nectarines may also improve skin health because they contain vitamin A, copper, magnesium, and niacin. Nectarines can reduce blood pressure by increasing potassium intake.
The polyphenol in nectarines has also been shown to significantly contribute to reducing high blood pressure and blood sugar level, lowering the overall risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Lastly, some studies suggest that the anthocyanins and antioxidants in nectarines can promote longevity and decrease mortality from some diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
Where to Purchase Nectarines
If you are looking for nectarines, your local grocery store or supermarket is the first place to check. They are often available in the produce section, and you may be able to find them year-round, although the quality and availability may vary depending on the season.
The best time to find them is during the summer when they are in season, usually from May to September, although this may vary depending on the location. Farmers’ markets are an excellent option for finding nectarines when they’re in season.
Specialty stores, such as natural or gourmet food, may also have other varieties of nectarines. They can also carry nectarine jams or syrups.