Stone fruit season has arrived and the markets are brimming with sweet, juicy peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, pluots and apriums. Did you know California grows about 90 percent of the nectarines and plums grown in the US, and produces about 60 percent of all the peaches?
With over 200 varieties of peaches, 200 varieties of plums, and about 175 varieties of nectarines, it’s easy to get confused about the flavor and color characteristics! Here’s a quick reference for stone fruits.
Peaches and Nectarines
There are many varieties of peaches and nectarines, but they fall into one of two categories: yellow or white flesh. Yellow peaches and nectarines are ready to eat when they yield to gentle palm pressure and have a balance of sweet and tart flavors. White peaches and nectarines are naturally sweeter and can be ready to eat when still firm and crunchy.
Plums generally have tart skin and sweet flesh. As plums ripen and soften, the skin becomes less tart and the flesh sweeter. Plum flavor can’t be judged by color. Regardless of color — red, black, purple, yellow or green — each has a unique flavor. Most plums grown in California are Japanese plums with a round shape and dark purple color and European plums that have a more elongated shape and mottled skin with a purple or green color.
Introduced in 1989, pluots are a hybrid fruit that are part plum and part apricot. There are about 20 varieties in the world which vary in size, skin color and flesh color. Pluot flesh can be anywhere from white to red. The skin is smooth like a plum and can be solid, striped or speckled, with colors that range from yellow-green to black. Pluots have beautiful shapes and delightful names like Black Kat, Dapple Dandy, Last Chance, and Flavor Grenade. Some people call them Dinosaur Eggs.
The aprium is also a plum and apricot hybrid, but its heritage is primarily apricot. Like apricots, apriums have slightly soft, fuzzy skin. Pluots and apriums are known for their sweetness and flavor; the sugar content of these fruits is much higher than that of a plum or apricot alone.
Clingstone, Freestone and Semi-Freestone
Stone fruits can be clingstone, freestone or semi-freestone. In clingstone varieties, the flesh holds fast to the pit, while the flesh of freestone varieties slips away easily from the pit. In semi-freestone varieties, the fruit’s flesh easily separates from the pit when the fruit is fully ripened.
As a general rule, early-season peaches and nectarines are clingstone, moving to freestone in the peak season. Late-season peaches are generally freestone and late season nectarines return to clingstone. Most plum varieties are clingstone.
Stone Fruit Tips:
- Buy stone fruit that is fragrant and yields gently to palm pressure.
- Stone fruit should be allowed to ripen at room temperature. At peak ripeness, it should be stored in the refrigerator to preserve its flavor.
- Never refrigerate unripe fruit since refrigeration inhibits the ripening process and will cause the fruit to be dry, mealy and flavorless.
- To enjoy the fullest flavor, remove stone fruit from the refrigerator one hour before eating and eat at room temperature.