Nectarines are the same species as peaches and bear the same botanical name, Prunus persica. Smooth skin differentiates nectarines from their fuzzy fraternal twin, a result of breeding that inhibits the recessive ‘fuzz’ gene.
Nectarines also tend to be a smaller, firmer version of their sibling fruit, with a more distinct aroma, and often have a brighter red tint to the skin.
Nectarines were domesticated at least 2,000 years ago in China; the fruit’s name means ‘sweet as nectar.’ Both nectarines and peaches are members of the rose family, with a corrugated seed shell in the same subgenus as almonds. Like peaches, nectarine flesh can be yellow, white, or red.
Types & Varieties
There are thousands of peach and nectarine cultivars, with hundreds currently in use for production. Northern hemisphere countries are on a January-December marketing year, while southern hemisphere nations market peaches and nectarines on a November-October basis.
Like other stone fruit, nectarines can be clingstone, freestone, or semi-freestone according to how easily the pit or seed separates from the flesh.
Fruit with a ‘clinging stone’ is generally an early variety, while freestones mature later in the season. Freestones tend to be more popular in the fresh market and better for freezing while clingstones are preferred for processing.
Yellow is the most common flesh color in the United States for both clingstone and freestone varieties, usually with a higher acid content.
White flesh, which originated in Asia and continues to grow in popularity for both peaches and nectarines, tends to be sweeter.
Though less common, red fleshed-fruit is available as well. Yellow varieties include Fantasia, Fiesta, Honey Blaze, Nectar Babe, Red Diamond, Ruby Diamond, Summer Bright, Sunglo, Tiffany, Venus, and Zee Fire; they are less sweet with more acid than their white contemporaries.
White nectarines, such as the Arctic varieties, August Pearl, Jade, Magique, Polar Light, Redgold, and Zephyr, are known for their sweetness and low acid content. Flamekist is a juicy, soft, sweet clingstone variety often used for processing; Heavenly White and Zephyr are white freestone nectarines with a firmer texture, larger size, and lower sugar content, popular for baking and freezing.
Like peaches, there are also specialty cultivars such as flat donut/doughnut varieties preferred for their sweetness, lower acidity, and delicacy. A popular example is Sauzee King.