In my mind, peaches have always tasted sweeter than nectarines. I don’t particularly enjoy the feel of trichome on my lips, but I’ve always thought of the “sweeter” flesh as my reward for enduring the discomfort of the more difficult fruit. (I have the endurance and mental fortitude required to eat proper peaches, unlike my weak, nectarine-loving counterparts.) This was, I have come to find, silly.
Why are nectarines so smooth?
It turns out I was half correct about the differences between the two fruits. Though fuzzy peaches can have a slightly higher sugar content than nectarines, they are almost genetically identical. Nectarines are peaches — they’re just bald is all.
Contrary to popular stone fruit lore, nectarines are not the love child of peaches and plums. Nectarines are smooth, fuzz-less peaches, thanks to single gene being recessive in the former and dominant in the latter.
How does this change things?
What does this mean for you and your stone fruit consumption? Beyond telling people that “nectarines are peaches, actually,” you can use them pretty much interchangeably in recipes. Nectarines are usually a little firmer, which gives them a slight edge if you’re grilling them, or layering them into a galette (they keep their shape better, preserving your pretty pattern); but honestly, I’ve grilled peaches to excellent results, so don’t stress about it. Conversely, peaches fall apart a little easier than their fuzz-less friends, but any fruit can be mashed into submission with enough heat or brute force.
Both peaches and nectarines come in yellow and white, and the white-fleshed versions of each are noticeably sweeter, due to their lower acid content. Both fruits can be freestone, clingstone, and (less commonly) semi-freestone, with the pit from the freestone fruits being easiest to remove, and clingstone being the most difficult. (This trick can help with stubborn pits.)
Use your senses
Like most fruit, the flavour of your peach — whether fuzzy or smooth — primarily hinges on how ripe it is. An unripe, white peach won’t taste as sweet as a fully ripe yellow nectarine, so choose a heavy, firm fruit with a tiny amount of give, and go for what looks and smells good, especially if you’re choosing your fruit at the end of the season (which we are rapidly approaching). Your recipe that calls for peaches will fare just fine with bald peaches, especially if they are ripe and juicy bald peaches.