Donut nectarines are unique nectarine cultivars which do look remarkably like donuts. In fact, they are a mutation of the popular donut peach, a flattened peach with a depression in the middle which evokes a donut hole. Specialty produce stores may stock donut nectarines when in season, as will farmers' markets and greengrocers. They can be used and handled exactly like regular nectarines, and are considered more of a novelty in looks than in flavor.
Nectarines and peaches are closely related, with nectarines having smooth flesh rather than fuzzy flesh, and a sweeter flavor. Many nectarine cultivars, like the donut nectarine, are actually mutations of peach cultivars, since the genetic differences between the fruits are very small. In the case of the donut nectarine, the fruit's origins can be found in China, where flat peaches have been cultivated for several centuries. The flat peach was first exported to the West in the 1800s, and was briefly lost until the late 1900s, when donut peaches became a popular produce item. Donut nectarines followed close behind.
One specific cultivar is the Saturn nectarine, named in reference to the ringed planet. The unusual looking fruits may also simply be labeled as flat nectarines, generally by unimaginative grocers. Whatever consumers want to call it, a donut nectarine can be eaten out of hand, included in fruit salads, or used in an assortment of baked desserts, jams, and chutneys. The naturally sweet flavor enhances a wide range of dishes.
A good quality donut nectarine should have a rich red blush, with undertones of yellow. Consumers should try to avoid donut nectarines with green streaks, as these indicate that the fruit is not perfectly ripe. When cut open, a donut nectarine has white, dense flesh which will be very juicy and sweeter than that of a peach. The fruits should be handled carefully to avoid bruising, with consumers storing ripe fruit under refrigeration for no more than three days.
In warm climates with long, sunny summers, donut nectarines can also be cultivated. Generally, the trees are hardy and will bear in USDA zones five through nine, as long as they are planted in a sunny spot out of the wind, and offered lots of fertilizer and water. Nectarines can be finicky, sometimes becoming diseased for no apparent reason, which can be frustrating for gardeners. However, perseverance with the fickle fruits can yield a bumper crop of fresh, flavorful fruit in late August.