Peaches vs. Nectarines: What Makes Them Different + 5 Inspirations For Using Them
Each summer, there's one family of fruits that we get particularly excited about: stone fruits. And while the wide world of stone fruits includes a rainbow of options (including plums, cherries, and apricots), there are two particularly similar varieties that we all know and love: nectarines and peaches. But what makes these two different?
The difference between peaches and nectarines.
The primary difference between the fruits is an aesthetic one: Peaches have that signature fuzzy skin. Nectarines, by comparison, are smooth due to a genetic variation—they are, technically, just a different variety of peaches.
A recessive gene results in nectarines having a smoother, and thinner, skin. Nectarines also tend to be smaller and have a slightly stronger smell that also remain firmer when ripe.
Both fruits come in yellow and white varieties, which are distinguished not just by color but by flavor, too. The white varieties tend to be less acidic, and are sweeter even when less ripe, while the yellow varieties need to soften more to acquire their sweetness.
How to pick the perfect peach (or nectarine).
When they're in season in July and August, you're likely to find these fruits available everywhere. And while those two months are the peak season, you can also see the fruits commonly in late spring and into early autumn.
At their peak, they have a flavor reminiscent of honey. When it comes to picking the perfect fruit, that flavor is important because the best way to tell if a peach or nectarine is perfectly ripe is to smell it. Pick one up: It should have a rich, sweet, fruity smell, and the flesh should give slightly under your fingers.
5 ideas for how to use nectarines and peaches.
Because the major difference between the varieties is in the skin, they can be used largely interchangeably in recipes—especially when you'll be peeling the fruit. However, if you're hoping to skip the (admittedly sometimes tedious) step of peeling your stonefruit, you're better of opting for the smooth-skinned nectarine with its thinner skin. The thicker fuzzy skin of peaches can get tough with cooking.
While both fruits are, admittedly, pretty perfect eaten just as they are, you may want to use them in some fresh and unique ways—a little coaxing can make them into some pretty gorgeous desserts.
Make a crumble, crisp, pie, or cobbler.
So yes, all these desserts are technically different, but the basic components (fruit plus some sort of crust or topping) are the same. This easy recipe for vegan peach cobbler would be just as tasty with nectarines.
Pop them on the grill.
One of the simplest ways to bring something more to fresh stone fruit is to give them a quick char on the grill: Simply slice them in half, remove the pit, and add a bit of oil so they don't stick. The heat brings out their natural honey flavor—perfect for a dessert with a simple ice cream but also great alongside grilled meat.
Add them to salsa.
You might be more familiar with the idea of a mango salsa, but other stone fruit make great additions to a salsa too (and yes, mangos are a stone fruit too!). Dice them up with tomatoes, onion, lime juice, jalapeño, and a bit of sea salt for a summery topping for any meal.
Include them in a salad.
Don't dismiss a simple salad! The natural sweetness of these fruits means they pair well with dark leafy greens. We also recommend adding some nuts for protein and texture and maybe putting it all on a bed of ancient grains with your greens. Bonus points if you grill them first!
Make them the base of a smoothie.
The classic pairing of "peaches and cream" doesn't have to be just for dessert—nor does it have to be peaches. A simple, summery, smoothie (just like this one) is within reach when you start with these flavorful fruits.
The bottom line.
When it comes down to it, nectarines are really just a type of peach that express a recessive gene, and the two fruits are largely interchangeable for cooking—just always be sure to peel your peaches if they're going to be hitting the heat.
Eliza Sullivan is an SEO Editor at mindbodygreen, where she writes about food, recipes, and nutrition—among other things. She received a B.S. in journalism and B.A. in english literature with honors from Boston University, and she has previously written for Boston Magazine, TheTaste.ie, and SUITCASE magazine.