More than 300 varieties of peaches are grown in North America alone. From Elberta to Golden Glory, there are a number of popular varieties in the U.S. However, all peaches fall into just a few categories. When learning about varieties of peaches, start with a couple of questions:
- Is it yellow flesh or white flesh?
- Is it clingstone, freestone, or semi-freestone?
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Most peaches in the U.S. are yellow-fleshed. They tend to have a little more of an acid tang than their white-flesh counterparts. As with all peaches, look for yellow peaches that feel heavy for their size, have a bit of give when held in the palm of your hand, and, most importantly, smell like peaches when you take a whiff. When you look at the stem cavity of a yellow peach, it should be yellow and not green. These are all the signs of a ripe peach.
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Favored in Asia and increasingly available in the U.S., white-flesh peaches taste even sweeter than yellow peach varieties, in part due to their low acidity. They also tend to have a smoother, more luscious texture than yellow-fleshed peaches. From the outside, they don't necessarily look terribly different until you cut into them or peel them. Most peaches are well-labeled as white or yellow. Ripe white peaches will have a white or light yellow stem cavity (green means they're unripe).
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Freestone peach flesh does not stick to the pit, so they are preferred for eating out-of-hand. They tend to be larger and less juicy than clingstone peaches. They bake and preserve well, and can be simpler to prepare since the flesh is easy to separate from the pit. The vast majority of peaches for sale to retail customers are freestone peaches. Freestone peaches come in many varieties, with seasons ranging from May to October across the country.
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Clingstone peaches have flesh that clings to their pits. They can be slightly softer, sweeter, and juicier than freestone peaches. Because of these qualities, they are sought after for canning, preserving, and baking. Commercially canned peaches are all clingstone varieties. One advantage of shopping for peaches at farmers markets is that you can sometimes find clingstones; most grocery stores only carry freestones. The clingstone peach season ranges from May to August depending on the region.
You may also find semi-freestone peaches, a hybrid of clingstone and freestones, that attempts to combine the easy eating and pitting properties of freestones with the juicy sweetness of clingstones.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Donut peaches, or Saturn peaches, are an heirloom variety that has grown in popularity and recognition. Thanks to their shape, they are easy to eat out-of-hand. They are flat, white-fleshed, and low in acid. This variety of peach is generally available at farmers markets and specialty markets in July and August.
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Nectarines are, botanically speaking, a variety of peach. They are so closely related that nectarines often appear on the branches of peach trees.
Some people claim that nectarines have a slightly lighter flavor, and peaches tend to be a bit more deeply flavored. Technically the only difference is the name and the lack of peach fuzz on the smooth skin of nectarines. Because they lack fuzz, some people prefer to eat them out-of-hand, and the skin can be left on when baking.