The parenting adage goes, “Put on a sweater, your mother is cold,” but even mothers needn’t worry about the health of a nectarine, which is indeed a sweaterless peach. Peaches’ fuzzy coats help protect them because pests don’t care for the texture, but nectarines thrive thanks to the extra mothering many orchardists employ. Farmers such as California’s Ed Magee use precise irrigation, owl pest control, and special pruning techniques to grow the prettiest and sweetest-tasting examples of this scantily clad fruit.
The word “nectarine” means “like nectar,” and varieties come in a cavalcade of fancy names evoking fire and jewels, such as Diamond Bright, Diamond Pearl, Crimson Gold, Goldmine, Ruby Grand, Flamekist, and Summer Flare. Names with “Ice,” “Snow,” or “Star” in them usually belong to the white-fleshed varieties, such as Snow Queen or Arctic Star. Just like their sister peaches, nectarines can come in freestone (the flesh is free from the pit), clingstone (the flesh is woven into the pit), and semi-freestone types. They also come in the squashed-looking donut varieties.
Nectarines were not genetically modified to be fuzz-free—they’re as ancient as peaches, their histories intertwined. The nectarine differs from a peach by just one gene. In fact, sometimes peach trees will produce a nectarine, or vice versa. Nectarines were described in ancient texts, but true cultivation wasn’t chronicled until the 17th century in England. They were first grown in the U.S. in the 18th century, and they flourish in less humid climates like California’s.
Nectarines possess a full palette of flavor undertones, from cinnamon to citrus to pineapple. Their most significant trait is their sweetness, which is affected by the level of acid in the fruit. “Sub-acid” nectarines and peaches taste sweeter because they have less acid. Nectarines are a low-calorie food (about 50 calories per fruit) and are chock-full of vitamins C and A—which is bound to make any mom happy.
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She's been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.