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.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Oregon State University, SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle, University of Arizona Yuma County Cooperative Extension, USDA.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
There are thousands of peach and nectarine cultivars, with several hundred currently in use for nectarine 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 are 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.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, PennState Extension, SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle, University of Georgia, USDA.
PESTS & DISEASE
A number of pests are attracted to both peaches and nectarines, though the latter may be more susceptible lacking the fuzz on peaches that is supposed to protect fruit from some pests.
Both squash bugs and stink bugs are attracted to developing fruit and leave tiny bite marks on immature fruit that can turn into wrinkles as the skin matures. Most of these imperfections are harmless, but can occur frequently in organics due to restrictions on pesticide use. Research indicates yellow-flesh varieties as more resistant to some pests and disease in nectarines. In addition to squash and stink bugs, other pests of concern include aphids, beetles, borers, caterpillars, cutworms, leaf hoppers, leafrollers, moths, nematodes, scale, and spider mites.
Excess moisture from rain or dew can lead to favorable conditions for a host of viruses and diseases. Among the more common affecting nectarines and peaches are bacterial spot, botrytis, brown rot, coryneum blight, crown gall, grey mold, leaf curl, mosaic, powdery mildew, Rhizopus rot, rust, scab, sunburn, twig blight, and wood decay.
References: PennState Extension, University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Georgia, USDA, Washington State University Extension.