Tender, fragrant, and juicy, peaches are summer fruits with much to offer. What’s the difference between peaches and nectarines? And how do you prepare, cook, and store peaches? Read on to learn how to use these delightful fruits.
Originally from Northwest China, peaches are popular throughout Asia. Their cultivation migrated to Persia (modern day Iran) and later to Europe where they eventually landed in the U.S.
Like apples, peaches carry cultural and religious significance. In Chinese culture, peaches ward against evil spirits. Many famous Renaissance paintings are still lifes depicting peaches.
In this article, we’ll focus on how to cut peaches for eating and cooking plus how to pick the best peaches and store them for peak freshness.
What are peaches?
Peaches are a summer stone fruit with sweet, tender, and juicy flesh enveloped by a fuzzy skin. They come in a range of colors varying from white to golden yellow to burgundy red.
Peaches and nectarines are closely related to other stone fruits, such as cherries and apricots, all of which are part of the rose family.
Because peaches are highly perishable, they are best eaten fresh during summer. Thanks to modern technology, we can enjoy frozen, canned, and jarred-in-syrup peaches during non-summer months.
Peaches vs. nectarines?
Nectarines are the same species as peaches. The only difference is that peaches have fuzzy skins and nectarines have smooth skins. Scientists believe a recessive allele leads to the nectarine’s smooth skin whereas the fuzzy skin is dominant.
Therefore, nectarines are a type of peach. Peaches (and nectarines) can be further broken down into several different types: white vs. yellow and clingstone vs. freestone.
- White peaches: White peaches are lower in acidity, which makes them sweeter than yellow peaches. They’re popular in Asia where white peaches are more common than yellow. You can enjoy the flesh when the peach is ripe and juicy or slice it when it’s just shy of fully ripe for a sweet and crunchy texture.
- Yellow peaches: Yellow peaches and nectarines are tangy due to the higher acidity content. They’re more prevalent in Europe and North America where yellow peaches are the most common type of peach you’ll find. They taste more flavorful when fully ripe.
Within each category of yellow and white peaches and nectarines, there’s a further distinction that describes how tightly the stone attaches to the flesh.
- Clingstones: These peaches have flesh that tightly clings to the pit. They tend to be juicier, which makes them well suited for canning and cooking to make peach jam.
- Freestones: These peaches have flesh that easily releases from the pit and less juicy than clingstones. Freestone peaches and nectarines are good candidates for eating raw and dishes where presentation of the peach matters, such as stuffed peaches, grilled peaches, or peach pies, because the pits are easy to remove.
- Semifree: Some cultivars are in-between clingstone and freestone. They’re called semi-freestone peaches, which combine the qualities of both.
NOTE: Unless the label at the store tells you, you can’t easily tell the difference between a clingstone vs. a freestone peach. And it doesn’t matter as any ripe and fragrant peach will taste delicious. While these distinctions are fun facts, no need to overthink which one to buy. A farmers market vendor might be able to tell you which type you’re buying if you care.
Finally, there are flat peaches, also called donut peaches or Saturn peaches. These flattened peaches are a flattened disc shape rather than spherical. Their skin is usually less fuzzy than spherical peaches. As a white peach, they have a sweeter taste than yellow peaches.
How to prep peaches
Wash the peaches and nectarines by rubbing them gently under clean running water to remove dirt.
TIP: Check out the FDA’s guide on how to properly wash fruits and vegetables to prevent illness.
How to cut peaches
Here are the most common ways I cut up peaches and nectarines. You can use these cuts to eat peaches raw, grilling, baking, and layering on salads.
TIP: Hold the peaches gently when cutting. If they’re ripe, they can bruise easily when you are cutting into them.
- Whole (peeling fuzzy peach skins are optional): Ideal for eating raw as a snack.
- Halved & pitted: Peach and nectarine halves are great for grilling and stuffing.
- Quartered & pitted: A good size for roasting and eating raw.
- Wedges: This is the most common cut I use for eating peaches raw, especially if it’s a clingstone where the pit is hard to remove.
- Sliced (peeling optional): This is a great cut for peach pies and tarts, topping salads, and crêpes. This is a good size for pan-fried caramelized peaches and peach crisp.
- Diced (peeling optional): Diced peaches and nectarines are great for adding to a fruit salad, stewing to make peach jam or chutney, and baking peach & nectarine cobbler and crumble. Diced peaches also make a great topping over ice cream, yogurt, and oatmeal. You can also use diced peaches for peach salsa.
NOTE: If desired, you can peel apples before chopping and eating the flesh. Most of the fiber and the majority of flavonoids are in the skin so eating the peel delivers much of the nutrients.
How to eat peaches raw
While you can eat a whole peach like a whole apple, I like cutting peaches into wedges to avoid dripping their juice everywhere.
There are many ways to enjoy raw peaches:
- Sliced ripe peaches served with yogurt, ice cream, crème fraîche, ricotta, cottage cheese, etc.
- Thinly sliced nectarines on top of graham crackers served with goat cheese and a drizzle of honey
- Blend peeled peaches with other fruits and yogurt to create a fruit smoothie
How to cook peaches
Cooking unripe peaches is a great way to soften them and bring out the sugars when the peach is not yet ready to eat raw. There are numerous ways to cook peaches and nectarines, including:
- Grilling: Cut in half and remove the pit. Put the cut side down on the grill and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes until the fruit is soft.
- Roasted peaches
- Pan-fried peaches
- Deep-fried peaches
TIP: Ripe and fragrant peaches are likely too soft and juicy for cooking as they won’t easily retain their shape. If you want to cook ripe peaches, use them for jams, pies, cakes, and recipes that expect the flesh to break down.
Peaches work well with…
- Fruits: stone fruits (apricots, cherries), citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits), apples, pears, berries (strawberries, blueberries)
- Spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise
- Herbs: mint, sage, basil, cilantro, lemongrass
- Cream, fresh dairy, fermented dairy, and soft cheese
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds (they’re closely related), pecans
- Leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, watercress, Napa cabbage
- Protein: Chicken thighs and breasts, pork sausages, tofu steaks
Recipes with peaches
How to substitute peaches
You can use peaches and nectarines interchangeably since they’re the same fruit other than the fuzzy vs. smooth skin. You can substitute yellow and white peaches and nectarines without any troubles.
Other stone fruits, such as apricots, cherries, plums, and pluots, are great substitutes for peaches and nectarines.
Where to buy peaches
You can buy peaches at your local grocery stores, at the farmers markets, and online directly from farmers and co-ops.
Although there are hundreds of cultivars grown worldwide, there’s usually only 1 choice at the grocery store at a time. Generally, shoppers seem to be less familiar with different peach and nectarine cultivars compared with apple cultivars.
That said, there are better known peaches, such as the Elberta (which was hybridized in Georgia). If you’d looking for something specific, buy from the farmers market or an online retailer, which are more likely to offer specific cultivars.
Are peaches seasonal?
Yes, peaches and nectarines are summer fruits. Some cultivars reach peak ripeness in the early summer, beginning in June. Others ripen towards the end of summer, which offers you a longer window to enjoy them fresh.
At the grocery store, you’ll likely encounter different cultivars throughout the summer from golden juicy peaches to bright yellow fleshy interiors with flecks of bloody red.
The upside of only having 1 option at a time is that the peaches and nectarines sold at the store are likely picked at peak ripeness.
TIP: During non-summer months, use frozen peaches for baking and cooking. They are peeled and frozen at peak ripeness so frozen peaches will be sweeter and more flavorful than off-season peaches. Canned peaches are a good option for fruit salads and peach crumble.
How to pick peaches
Choose bright-colored, firm peaches and nectarines with a spherical shape (unless you’re buying a flat peach). While fuzzy peach skins aren’t smooth like nectarines’, they shouldn’t be dimpled or wrinkled.
NOTE: Wrinkled nectarines are OK to buy but you’ll need to eat them the same day because wrinkled skins are an indication that the fruit has hit peak ripeness and is on the downward trend.
Peaches and nectarines shouldn’t have brown spots, moldy spots, or feel mushy. They should feel firm, although the ripe ones will yield if you press the flesh (so don’t aggressively handle them).
TIP: The most important thing is to smell the peaches and nectarines. Even if they’re not fully ripe yet, they should smell fragrant around the stem. They’ll smell more aromatic as they ripen on your countertop.
How to store peaches
Due to their smooth skins, nectarines are more prone to damage than peaches and therefore require gentler handling.
If you’re ready to eat the peaches and nectarines within 5-7 days: Leave them on your kitchen counter at room temperature. Within a few days, they should ripen enough to smell fragrant and eat. If they’re ripe and you’re not ready to eat yet, store them in the fridge and “reheat” to room temperature before consuming.
TIP: Peaches and nectarines are ripe enough to eat when they feel soft around the stem and smell fragrant. If you gently squeeze, they’ll have some “give” (don’t squeeze hard or you’ll bruise the fruit). White peaches and nectarines can be eaten when still firm for a crunchy texture.
If you want to store the peaches and nectarines for as long as possible: Store them in the produce drawer in the fridge. Refrigeration slows (and may prevent) the fruits from ripening. When you’re ready to eat, store at room temperature until they reach your preferred firmness.
NOTE: Peaches and nectarines release ethylene gas. Learn more about how ethylene ripens fruit and vegetables and how you can use this to your advantage, just like with apples, to quickly ripen peaches.
Fun things to do with peaches & nectarines
If you’ve got a surplus of ripe peaches or nectarines, consider taking one and transforming it into a facial mask. Here’s a recipe using half a mashed overripe peach and 1 tablespoon of yogurt to make a face mask.
TIP: If it’s your first time putting fruit and yogurt on your face, test a small patch on your neck first and allow at least 12 hours to see whether it’s safe to use on your skin.
FAQ about peaches
What can I make with a lot of peaches?
Here are popular ways to use up a lot of peaches and nectarines:
Peach salsa, peach pie, peach cake, nectarine cupcakes, jam, pudding, ice cream, cobbler, crisp, crumble, chutney.
If none of those seem appealing right now, prepare the peaches and nectarines for freezing. Use frozen peaches in smoothies or baked desserts at a later date.
READ NEXT: Oranges 101: Learn to cook this bright fruit prized by the ancient nobility
2 thoughts on “Peaches vs. nectarines: How to pick, cut, & cook peaches”
Hi Anna, I just loved your information on peaches and nectarines. I will sure use this in the future, thanks! Gabriella