Peaches (Prunus persica) are available in a number of different varieties. See flat peach or nectarine.
Peaches tastes best when eaten raw, but they can also be eaten cooked or dried. Peaches are very juicy and can be messy to eat, but you can avoid the mess by cutting them into bite-size pieces after washing. First cut the peach vertically around the pit, and then use your hands to gently pull the peach apart. Remove the pit and cut the peach into smaller pieces.
You can peel peaches if you don’t like their fuzzy skin, but it’s best to eat the skin of organic peaches as the skin contains the most micronutrients.
Fresh peaches contain a lot of water, which makes them very refreshing. Their juiciness makes peaches a refreshing addition to fruit salads or muesli. Peaches can be cooked and pureed to make jam, compote, and chutney. Raw peaches can also be pureed and used in desserts.
Dried peaches work well in muesli and fruitcakes, or finely chopped and mixed into sauces.
Peach juice can be used to give salad dressing and other sauces a distinctive fruity flavor. The juicy freshness of peaches makes them particularly well suited for juicing and for combining with other fruit juices.
To make a refreshing smoothie from this summer fruit, cut a large, fully-ripe organic peach into pieces and add a small ripe banana and about 130 g of well-rinsed fresh (or frozen) organic raspberries. Blend the ingredients until you get a thick, almost creamy drink. If you wish, you can dilute the mixture with mineral water (sparkling or still).1
Peaches are typically summer fruits. Their season lasts from mid-May until the end of September. You can find unripe, local peaches at farmers’ markets and grocery stores from July onwards. When possible, buy organic. Peaches can usually be found next to their close relatives, nectarines. Supermarkets and wholesalers display the two types of fruit separately such as Coop, Migros, Denner, Volg, Spar, Aldi, Lidl, Rewe, Edeka, and Hofer (Europe); Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); and Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia).
Peaches are round and up to 12 cm in diameter. Their reddish-yellow skin is covered with fuzz. Depending on the variety, a peach’s flesh can be white or yellow. The flesh surrounds a hard pit with deep grooves that are 1.5–2.5 cm in diameter. The fruit’s flavor and texture depend on the variety of peach. An average-size peach weighs approximately 100–110 g, but peaches can weigh from 75 to 150 g.
Peaches are often sprayed so thoroughly to prevent diseases that washing them cannot sufficiently eliminate the pesticide residues. To avoid pesticides, it is worth buying peaches that are certified organic or grown locally. It is also important to make sure that the fruit does not have any bruises; otherwise, it will rot quickly.
When is a peach ripe? Unripe peaches are still somewhat green. Press peaches gently with your finger to determine how ripe they are. You can buy hard peaches and let them ripen at home before you eat them, but these peaches will never be as sweet and juicy as peaches that were picked when they were already fully ripe. Peaches with wrinkled skin should be avoided because they are overripe and will rot quickly.
Dried peaches are still relatively unknown in comparison to other dried fruits, but you can get them at health food stores and well-stocked supermarkets. Make sure that the dried peaches haven’t been treated with sulfur. Many producers use sulfur dioxide to preserve the color of peaches, mangoes, apricots, and other dried fruits.
At gourmet markets, you can also find blocks of Persipan, which is similar to marzipan but made from peach or apricot pits. The name comes from the Latin “persicus” peach and “pan” bread. Persipan is bitter and made from the pits of special inedible apricots that are grown just for producing persipan. By contrast, the pits of edible apricots are sweet.
Prices can be quite different between different peach varieties. For example, white peaches (with white flesh) are usually more expensive because they are particularly flavorful and juicy. They are also more delicate than yellow peaches. There are several varieties of peaches (see “General information” below).
Peaches (Prunus persica) can grow wild. Some people use the name “wild peach” to refer to flat peaches, but even though the name makes it sound like flat peaches grow in the wild, they are actually raised in orchards.
Peaches ripen at room temperature. If they are already ripe when purchased, they should be used or eaten right away. Ripe and undamaged peaches can be stored in the refrigerator for a short time if necessary. However, they shouldn’t be stored touching each other because this will cause them to go bad quickly. You can freeze peaches by peeling them, cutting the flesh into pieces, and freezing in suitable containers. Peach puree can also be frozen.
Peaches are considered to be a very healthy, low-calorie fruit. A medium-size peach weighing 100 g consists of 87 % water and has about 39 calories. Peaches contain 6.6 mg/100 g vitamin C, but yellow bell peppers have much more (183 mg/100 g). Peaches also contain small amounts of vitamin E, niacin, vitamin K, and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). They are abundant in potassium at 190 mg/100 g, but not in comparison to beans (such as kidney beans), which have 1406 mg/100 g. Copper, phosphorus, and manganese are also present in small amounts.2 More detailed information can be found in the ingredient tables below.
Vitamin C strengthens the immune system and neutralizes free radicals. Peach fiber contains secondary structures such as cellulose, which stimulate digestion. Vitamin E, which also inhibits inflammatory processes, is important for cell renewal. Niacin helps in the catabolism of fats, protein, and carbohydrates and is beneficial for skin and nails.
Potassium plays a central role in transmitting stimuli in the nervous system and regulating the water balance in the body. Potassium ensures that our muscles work well. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and is a component of the digestive juices in the gastrointestinal tract.
Copper helps to preserve connective tissue. Copper also plays an important role as an antioxidant, in energy metabolism, in the nervous system, and in iron transport. It helps combat appetite loss and dizzy spells.
People prone to allergic reactions should peel the fuzzy skin off a peach before eating because the skin can cause allergic reactions.3 The allergens are generally found directly in or under the skin of the peach. Allergic reactions to peach, apricots, and nectarines are more common than people assume. Symptoms usually occur immediately and include itching, redness, pustules (on the tongue or in the whole mouth), a swollen tongue or lips, inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and tongue, and skin rashes and redness (especially on the face). In rare cases, eating peaches can cause anaphylaxis. Cross-reactions are also possible with cherries, apples, plums, hazelnuts, peanuts, grapes, and soy.19
Peach pits can be poisonous in large quantities, as each contains about 6.5 % hydrocyanic acid, one of the by-products of amygdalin, which is a cyanogenic glycoside. The leaves contain a related cyanogenic glycoside.4
Peaches have always been valued for their cooling and moisturizing effects by monks who practice natural medicine. The Complete Herbal by the seventeenth-century English physician Culpeper contains a long list of indications for peaches. He recommends a syrup made from peach flowers and leaves as a cleanser for the gallbladder and for jaundice, and describes peach kernel oil, derived from oil-rich peach pits, as a beauty product for the skin.5
Hildegard von Bingen, considered the first proponent of German mysticism in the Middle Ages, also describes various medicinal uses of peaches. According to her, unripe peaches along with peach pits, peach leaves, peach bark resin, and even peach tree roots can be used externally for watery eyes, gout, and headaches.13,14
Peaches originated in China and were eaten there as early as 2000 BCE, before they came to Greece via Persia (today Iran) about two thousand years ago. Peach trees have adapted well to the climate throughout the Mediterranean region. The Romans brought peaches to Germany, where they first appeared in the Taunus Mountains in the second century CE. The warm climate required for growing peaches means that they are mainly cultivated in central Italy, Spain, France, Hungary, and Greece in Europe. Areas with wine production are also well suited to peach trees. Peaches can thrive in humid subtropical climates and in higher altitudes in the tropics. In these areas, however, winter temperatures must be cool enough to break dormancy. Different peach varieties require very different winter conditions with regard to temperature and duration of cold temperatures.6
Today, more than half of the peaches harvested worldwide come from America.3 Other major areas of cultivation are China, Spain, and Italy.
Spring is the best time to plant a peach tree. A southern-facing wall can be a good place to plant peach trees as they thrive in warm conditions.
Peach trees do not, however, tolerate moisture. They should be planted deep in well-drained and nutrient-rich soil. Before you plant a peach tree in your garden, you should be aware that they can reach a height of up to eight meters.
Pruning peach trees: In order to ensure that your peach tree will continue to produce fruit for a long time, it is important to prune it annually (see “Cultivation — harvest” below). Gardeners usually choose to keep 3–4 lateral branches and prune them back to 3–4 buds. The central shoot can then be trimmed back to about 8 buds above the highest lateral branch. For fan-shaped trellises against building walls, two lateral branches are sufficient.20,21
In larger nurseries and garden centers, you can buy peach trees in various sizes in pots. The plant only needs a short dormant period in winter. Winters that are too cold, however, can damage the wood, and late frosts can destroy early flowers and thus an entire harvest.7 Peach trees are sensitive to cold and do not tolerate frost. They need a well-lit location to overwinter, but if their winter conditions are not humid enough, they are susceptible to mealybug and aphid infestations. As a preventive measure, it is worthwhile to insert aphid repellent sticks from a garden store into the soil and to check on the plants regularly.8
There are about 3'000 peach varieties worldwide. In addition to differences in color, peaches also differ in the way their pits separate from their flesh. This separates peaches into clingstone and freestone varieties.
Peach trees are bushy, deciduous fruit trees with low broad crowns. In warmer areas, peach trees blossom in late winter, but they usually flower in April. The trees blossom before they leaf out. The blossoms range from pinkish red to lavender and are 2–3 cm in size. Peach blossoms grow individually, but close together. Peaches’ lancet-shaped leaves, typically 6–12 cm long, are shiny and dark green on top and light green underneath.
Peach trees are one of the most demanding fruit trees. Extra peaches need to be thinned during the growing season. This entails removing any small peaches that don’t have market potential in order to leave more nutrients for the remaining harvest. Peach trees bear their fruit on the annual wood, that is, on the branches that grew the previous year. Each branch bears fruit only once, and by the time it reaches its third year of "growing", it doesn’t produce any flowers and hardly any leaves. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary to cut back the branches after the harvest or in the spring. The trees will yield more and better quality fruit if they are grown as espalier trees with fan-shaped side branches.15
Peach trees are susceptible to leaf curl disease, which is widespread. As the name suggests, the newly formed leaves become deformed and “curl up.” Fighting the disease is not easy. At present, there are no biological agents that have a proven effect against leaf curl.
In China, peach trees are defoliated to achieve two fruit harvests so that markets can be supplied by domestic production throughout the year.6
Peaches could be confused with nectarines although peaches are characterized by their fuzzy skin while nectarines have smooth skin. Because of a natural mutation, peach trees can occasionally produce nectarines, or a peach tree can grow from a nectarine pit.9
Peach pits contain amygdalin, and the leaves contain a related cyanogenic glycoside called prussic acid. Both substances are highly toxic to animals because the prussic acid interferes with metabolism and can result in an animal’s death within a very short time. This is also true of many plants in the rose family and the genus Prunus.17
The peach tree (Prunus persica) is one of the most important species in the genus Prunus and belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae).
There are numerous types and varieties of peaches. Wikipedia lists the most important ones.4
Description of some types of peaches:
Flat peach: The fruit has a flattened shape, and its skin is like that of a round peach. Its flesh is particularly flavorful, less acidic, and contains more sugar than other varieties. This variety is often more expensive than common peaches. Different names for flat peaches (like wild peach or mountain peach) often give the mistaken impression that these are wild or traditional varieties from special regions. Flat peaches are fairly resistant to frost and produce regular and rich harvests. It is difficult to find organic flat peaches because they often suffer from leaf curl and therefore require pesticides.10
Nectarine: Nectarines (Prunus persica var. nectarina) are the result of a mutation of the peach plant. They have smooth skin and are slightly smaller than round peaches but similar in color. Their flesh is sweet in flavor and white, yellowish, or reddish depending on the variety. Nectarines come mainly from America. Europe, Italy, France, and Spain are the main exporters of nectarines. The belief that nectarines are a cross between plums and peaches is not correct.18
Nectavigne: Nectavignes are a cross between nectarines and Lyonese vineyard peaches that have only been on the market since 2004. They look like nectarines without yellow pigments, and their skin is completely red. Nectavignes are slightly smaller than classic peaches. Their flesh is purplish-white and is rather mealy. The taste is much less intense than that of peaches or nectarines. France is the only country that grows Nectavignes.11
Description of some peach varieties:12,16
The robust Benedicte variety is less susceptible to diseases than other peach varieties. The trees, which are originally from France, produce late crops. These reddish-yellow peaches are available in stores from September onward.
The Pilot variety will grow in almost all areas. Pilot peaches are resistant to diseases and have been grown in Germany since 1971. Their flesh is yellow and has both a sweet and sour flavor.
The Revita variety can also be found in German orchards. Its flowers are dark pink, and the peaches can be harvested beginning in mid-August.
The Proskauer variety is an older strain that comes from Silesia, where it was bred in 1871. Proskauer peaches are very robust and can even be grown at higher altitudes. The peaches are extra fuzzy and ready to harvest starting at the end of August. Their pulp is very juicy and sweet.
Vineyard peaches: Vineyard peaches have dark red, firm flesh, which is less sweet than the flesh of other peach varieties but tastes more intensely “peachy.” Vineyard peaches are primarily used for jams and liqueurs or cooked and canned to use later. Canned peaches may not have as many nutrients as fresh peaches, but you can enjoy the flavor year-round. If you are going to use canned peaches, make sure that the sugar content is as low as possible.
Peaches produce a rubber-like substance that was used as an adhesive in some areas until the production of synthetic adhesives.4
The hard, reddish wood of the peach tree has been used since the eighteenth century for various types of beautiful woodwork. According to Wikipedia, peaches in China symbolize immortality
Peaches are also sometimes referred to as wild peaches, flat peaches, nectarines, or more generally as stone fruit.