What are Peaches?

Mary McMahon

Peaches are stone fruits which come from the tree of the same name. Many people associate peaches with summer, since they come into season in May and are often available as late as October. The tender, flavorful fruits are popular on their own, and also in things like pies, preserves, and fruit salad. Most greengrocers and stores carry peaches in season, because their popularity leads to high consumer demand, and peaches are also available in canned form year round.

Doughnut peaches.
Doughnut peaches.

The peach tree appears to be native to China, where it has been cultivated for centuries. When the fruits were initially introduced to Europe, the Greeks thought that they originated in Persia, naming them persica after their word for “Persia.” The misnomer lives on in the scientific name for peaches, Prunus persica.

Nectarines, which have a smooth outer skin, are the same species as peaches but of a specific variety.
Nectarines, which have a smooth outer skin, are the same species as peaches but of a specific variety.

A ripe peach is extremely aromatic, and it gives slightly under gentle pressure. The fruit fits roughly into an adult hand, although larger and smaller versions can be found. Peaches are spherical in shape, with a distinctive horizontal indentation running along one side from stem to tip. As a general rule, peaches are broken into two categories, freestone and clingstone. The pit of a freestone peach comes out easily when the fruit is split, while clingstone peaches do not yield their pits as readily. Both types come in a range of colors from white to rich orange on the inside, with characteristic rosy, fuzzy skin on the outside.

When split, the corrugated pit of a peach has a single seed which strongly resembles an almond. The resemblance is not terribly surprising, since peaches are in the almond family, but consumers should refrain from eating the seed of a peach. Like some rare almonds, peach stones are toxic, and they can cause severe health problems if they are ingested.

Temperate zones are the best place to grow peaches, since the trees need a little bit of cold in the winter to set fruit on the branches. The trees cannot get too cold, however, as they are extremely temperature sensitive. The flowers are especially subject to frost bite, since they come out early in the year. Peaches can thrive up to USDA zone six, and they do not do well in tropical regions, because the weather does not get cold enough to promote fruit formation.

Some people in cooler zones grow peaches as ornamental trees. The pink flowers are attractive and slightly aromatic, and a planting of peach trees can be quite lovely in the spring. If fruit does manage to set, it is considered a bonus feature of an ornamental peach.

Peach trees are native to China.
Peach trees are native to China.

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Discussion Comments


I look forward to the first peaches every year and I haunt the farmer's market to find out when they will be in for sale.

I am a peach fiend. I've never met a peach I didn't like. I prefer the yellow peaches, but white are fine, too. Even the smell of peaches is intoxicating.

The folks from the orchards like to see me coming because they know I'll handle their fruit with respect. I have a two-finger testing method for ripeness that rarely fails me. I look for fruit that yields a little under gentle pressure, and smells good. That usually means it tastes good, too.

The very thought of getting that first peach of the season is a delightful one. Makes my mouth water.

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