Peaches, the celebrated summer fruit adored by many, are a stone fruit that come from a deciduous tree native to northwest China, where it was first domesticated and cultivated. The fruit was a favorite among Chinese royalty and it was mentioned in writings dating back to the 10th century BC. Peaches were introduced to the parts of the Americas by Spanish explorers during the 16th century, England, France and the American colonies during the 17th. American commercial production of the fruit began during the 19th century in the states of Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and Virginia. Even though California, Georgia and South Carolina are currently the top peach producing states, China is still the largest producer of peaches for worldwide consumption.
There are two main types of peaches: clingstones and freestones, although a type called semi-freestone does exist, as well. Clingstone fruit have flesh that sticks stubbornly to the peach pit. The flesh is yellow in color with touches of red near the pit. This variety is usually harvested earlier in the year (May through August) and is the preferred fruit for canning and making preserves. They are rarely found fresh at the grocery. Freestone fruit have pits that are easily removed from the flesh, making them the more popular choice for eating fresh. This is the variety most often found in the produce section of the grocery store and at farmers markets. They are a wonderful choice for baking. As the name implies, the semi-freestone variety is a hybrid of the two main types of peaches, exhibiting characteristics of both. They can be enjoyed fresh or canned. Surprising to many people, peaches and nectarines are actually the same species of fruit even though they are regarded commercially as two separate entities. Genetic studies suggest that nectarines are produced because of a recessive allele while peaches are produced by a dominant one.
A study from Texas A&M has shown that stone fruit have been shown to help ward off weight related diseases such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. The anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory properties possessed by peaches may reduce LDL, anthocyanins, chlorogenic acids, quercetins and catechins in the human body. In addition to the previously mentioned health benefits, peaches also contain vitamins A, C, E and K, niacin, folate, iron, choline, selenium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, copper and dietary fiber. The vitamin C alone can help combat free radicals that are known to cause cancer, reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin texture, combat sun damage, support the formation of collagen and support heart health. Fiber, choline and potassium are also key ingredients in heart health. The fiber found in peaches has also been shown to lower blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetics and improve blood sugar, lipid and insulin levels in type 2 diabetics while lowering the risk of colorectal cancer for the population as a whole. Other benefits peaches offer include:
- Reduction of hair loss
- Removing parasitic worms from the digestive tract
- Cleansing the kidneys and bladder
- Helping calm chronic bronchitis, coughs and gastritis when leaves and bark are made into and consumed as a tea
- Peach extracts have been shown to kill even the most aggressive forms of breast cancer while leaving healthy cells unharmed
Unfortunately, those who suffer from almond allergies may also find themselves allergic to peaches. Peeled and canned fruits may be tolerated by some when fresh cannot, but the risk is ever present.
For those interested in growing and harvesting their own peaches, there are a few things you should know. The peach tree needs full sun, good airflow and a regular, reliable water supply to thrive. They also require more nitrogen than most other fruit trees. This can be supplied by adding blood meal, bone meal or calcium ammonium nitrate to the soil in which the trees grow. Trees should be planted in early winter and harvest can begin as early as May and continue through August. However, don’t plan on enjoying fresh fruit from your tree right away-it typically takes three years for the production of fruit to begin. Healthy trees may continue to bear fruit yearly for up to twelve years. Once your trees have begun blooming, increase the water supply and be sure to thin the flowers. More flowers equals more fruit, which reduces the quality of flavor and size of the individual fruit, leaving them small and tasteless.
Fresh peaches are best left on the tree until you are ready to eat them as they do not store well and bruise easily. If you must store them, the optimal temperature is 32 degrees F with a high level of humidity. They should be eaten or canned within two weeks, if they even store well for that long. Whether you grow your own or purchase them from the grocery, peaches are a delicious addition to all summer celebrations. Please enjoy the following recipes featuring the flavor of peaches: