Nectarines are like the peach’s cousins that are smoother and have less fuzz. These seasonal stone fruits grow on trees in warmer places like parts of China, the southeastern U.S., and California. They are in season from June to August and have firmer flesh that works well on the grill, in salads, or as a snack. Find out more about these sweet fruits and why you should choose them over peaches the next time you’re at the grocery store.
The fruit we call a nectarine is almost the same as the fruit we call a peach, but there is one big difference. Most peaches have fuzz on their skin, while nectarines have smooth skin. The same mutation that gave the fruit its smooth skin also changed its taste and made it smaller. Both come from peach trees, which have been known to simultaneously make both kinds of fruit. Nectarine trees are just peach trees with a change in their DNA.
What are Nectarines?
Nectarines are stone fruits with smooth flesh that are closely related to peaches. Nectarines are actually in the same family as peaches, Rosaceae. They are grown from peaches and have a recessive gene that gives them hairless skin, firmer flesh, and a stronger taste. Both fruits have pits that either stay close to the fruit’s flesh or fall out easily, making it easier to cut without making a mess. Nectarines can be eaten raw, and since the peel isn’t fuzzy, they are often eaten out of hand with the center pit thrown away (no peeling required). They tend to be a little more expensive than peaches, but about the same.
Nectarines may have been tamed in China about 4,000 years ago, around the same time peaches became a common fruit in orchards. Botanists think that the nectarine grew because of a genetic change that farmers wanted and then started planting. Nectarines can grow directly from peach trees because some of the plant’s branches can carry the faulty gene.
Nectarines can be traced back to ancient China, where they and peaches were considered very special and important. This fruit took even more care to grow because it was more likely to get mold and peach rot. Nectarines became even more popular as trade between China and the rest of the world grew. European manuscripts from 1616 are the first places in the West where they are mentioned. Extremes of hot and cold weather, which are needed for pollination, made it hard for Europeans to grow nectarines and peaches well.
This type of peach has many different kinds of seeds, depending on whether they are freestone or clingstone. The next thing to choose is the color of the flesh, which can be white, light yellow, or bright golden orange. Between peaches and nectarines, there are more than 4,000 different kinds, and every year, more are found and made. Sunglo, Fantasia, Redgold, and Zephyr are some of the most popular kinds of nectarines. Most grocery stores don’t sell nectarines under these names; they usually say “nectarine.” However, you can find different kinds of nectarines at farmers’ markets and some specialty shops that sell unique and in-season fruit.
How to Use Nectarines?
Nectarines do not need to be cooked or peeled to be enjoyed. A washed fruit can be eaten as is, either bitten into like an apple or sliced. The large inner pit is not edible and should be discarded. Most prefer to eat nectarines ripely—they are ready when the flesh yields slightly when pressed and the peel in the stem cavity is no longer green.
Munching on a ripe, raw nectarine is one of the joys of eating summer fruit, though there are plenty of other things to do with this orange orb of juicy sweetness. For starters, try slicing them in half, removing the pit, and placing them directly on the hot grill. You can do this with peaches, but nectarines are firmer and hold up better to the heat while caramelizing the sticky sugars. Serve them warm and steaming with a scoop of ice cream, drizzled with honey and balsamic if desired.
As with other stone fruits, nectarines create wonderful jams and jellies and go great in baked applications such as hearty pies, chunky cobblers, and delicate tarts. But it’s not just the dessert menu that benefits from nectarines—try this fruit in savory dishes. Try chopping and mixing with jalapeños for a sweet and spicy salsa, pair with grilled pork chops, or turn the fruit into an umami-rich chutney.
Nutrition and Benefits
Nectarines are good for you in many ways, starting with the fiber and vitamin C they contain. This fruit is also rich in copper, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A and B3. For dessert, it’s much better to eat a sweet, ripe nectarine than a piece of chocolate cake, and you’ll also get some nutrients out of it. This fruit has a lot of vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Experts say to put a nectarine that is starting to ripen and a banana that is still green in a loosely folded paper bag at room temperature. After a few days, the fruit should be at its ripest. Check the fruit for signs of damage or mold before you buy it. Don’t buy nectarines with green spots on them because they might not ripen before going bad.
1. It May Help Prevent Anemia
When eaten with iron-rich foods, nectarines may help prevent anemia, which happens when there aren’t enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Since oxygen is carried through the body by red blood cells, people with anemia may feel tired. Vitamin C helps you absorb iron by changing it into a form that is easier for your body to absorb. Still, to avoid anemia, you should eat nectarines with iron-rich foods like beans and meat.
2. High in Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Nectarines have a lot of vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress caused by an imbalance of unstable molecules in your body called free radicals. Oxidative stress can lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. Nectarines also have flavonoids and anthocyanins, antioxidants that give many fruits and vegetables their color, taste, and smell. Flavonoids may help stop the loss of brain function that comes with getting older, and anthocyanins may help reduce inflammation and heart disease. Nectarines also have phenolic compounds, a polyphenol antioxidant that protects you from damage caused by free radicals.
3. May Lower your Risk of Cancer
Several studies show that the phenolic compounds in nectarines may make you less likely to get cancer.
A study that looked at more than 470,000 adults ages 51–70 found that eating more fruits, like nectarines, was linked to a lower risk of lung cancer in men. The study linked these benefits to the fact that these fruits are high in antioxidants. Also, a test-tube study showed that peach extract helped stop breast cancer cells from growing, suggesting that it has similar effects. Remember that more research needs to be done on people.
4. May Aid Weight Loss
First, they have a lot of fiber, which helps you feel full. If you already feel full, you probably won’t eat too much or take in too many calories. Also, this fruit has few calories and fat by nature. Eating many low-calorie fruits and vegetables instead of high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks may help you lose weight on your own.
A 4-year study of 73,737 women with a normal body mass index (BMI), a common health measure, found that each daily serving of fruit led to an average weight loss of 0.6 pounds (0.27 kg). The study found a link between starchy foods and foods low in fiber and weight gain.
5. May Improve Skin Health
Your skin, the largest organ in your body, needs good food to stay healthy. Copper, which is in nectarines, may be good for skin health. Copper makes cells in the dermis layer grow, and the dermis is the second layer of skin from the outside. It also keeps your skin from getting hurt, helps it stay healthy as you age, and makes more collagen, the most common protein in your body. Copper peptides are often found in cosmetic ingredients, which is interesting. Niacin (vitamin B3), which may protect skin cells from damage caused by the sun’s rays, and small amounts of vitamin A, which is also important for skin health, are also found in nectarines.
What do Nectarines Taste Like?
If you have ever sucked on the soft flesh of peach and enjoyed the fruit’s deep, round, and sweet flavors, you have a good idea of how nectarines taste. The biggest difference is how the food feels in your mouth and looks. You can enjoy the sunny sweetness of nectarines without having to deal with their furry skin, which some people don’t like.
Nectarines also have thicker meat that gives off a hint of spice to help balance the natural sugars. Because of this difference, the fruit works well in both desserts and main dishes. When it comes to their pits, nectarines are a lot like peaches. Some have pits made of freestone, while others are called clinging. Freestone pits are easier to get out of the fruit than peach pits because they don’t have as many twists and turns.
On the other hand, cling-style pits are deeply embedded in the flesh and must be taken out with a machine. Some think nectarines taste better than peaches and are much easier to eat, and they taste spicier than peaches, and the flesh is usually more firm.
Where to Buy Nectarines?
Nectarines are more likely to get sick than their peach relatives, which is why you don’t see as many of them. There is also a time of year for the fruit. From July to mid-September, you can check your local grocery store or farmers’ market to see if they have any. Nectarines are usually sold by the pound and can be found next to the peaches.
When choosing this fruit, look for dark orange spheres with no brown or green spots. They should feel firm and have no soft spots. The stem should smell nice and fruity. If the nectarines don’t smell ripe, you can still buy them and let them ripen at home for a couple of days on the counter or in a paper bag. Nectarine trees or large planters at home can be grown in the ground if the climate is right. Newer varieties can bear fruit on their own, so you can grow just one tree and get fruit from it.
Ripe nectarines can be kept on the counter or in a cool, dry place for a few days. Nectarines will get riper over time, so don’t keep them for too long because overripe stone fruit is mushy. You can also put ripe fruit in the refrigerator to make it last longer, but nectarines taste best at room temperature. Sliced fruit should always be kept in a sealed container in the fridge. You can also freeze it in freezer bags or ice-proof containers and use it later in baked goods or smoothies.
Can I Freeze Nectarines?
Nectarines that have been frozen are great for smoothies right out of the freezer, and they also work well in baked or cooked recipes. But when a frozen nectarine is thawed, it feels different than a fresh one. Because of this, they won’t work as well in fresh foods, like a salad.
Step 1: Prep
Pick ripe (slightly soft) nectarines that have no bruises or marks on them. When a nectarine is ready, the pit is easy to pull out, making it easy to prepare.
- Rinse the fruit—and don’t forget to remove labels. You may want to give your nectarines a baking soda bath.
- Remove the skin. Blanch the whole fruit by gently placing it in boiling water for 30 seconds (I like using a slotted spoon). Cool. Then slide off the skin.
You might not have to take the skin off. How you plan to use the fruit is the most important thing. When nectarine skin gets frozen, it gets tough. This isn’t a big deal for smoothies. You’ll be glad you took off the skin when you use it for other things.
Step 2: Slice the Fruit
When the pit gets frozen, it gets bitter and changes the taste. Half the nectarine and take out the pit.
You can leave the fruit in halves or slice it. As you cut the nectarine, dip the pieces into a mixture of lemon juice and water. (I add three tablespoons of lemon juice to 1 quart of water.) This keeps the cut fruit from turning brown.
Step 3: Freeze
Put parchment paper or waxed paper on a baking sheet with a rim. Put the cut fruit on the sheet, leaving space between each piece, so it doesn’t stick together. Freeze until solid.
Step 4: Pack it up
Put the frozen fruit in freezer storage bags with zip-tops like these. Write the name of the fruit and the date on each bag. Put bags on their sides in the freezer.
Use your frozen fruit within three months for optimum flavor.
Because nectarines result from a genetic change, growers must rely on transplanted strains of peach trees known to produce them. Some peach trees have at least one recessive nectarine gene, so they are often bred with other strains that are also likely to have recessive genes. Only if two genes that don’t work together well pair up will the fruit be produced.
Nectarines are like raw tomatoes in that they are easy to peel. Cut a small X in one end of the fruit and put it in a pan of boiling water for a few seconds. Throw them immediately into a bowl of ice water and peel them when they are cool.