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Nectarines

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Sweeter than its first cousin, the peach, and darker-fleshed (hence richer in beta-carotene), nectarines are a sweet, juicy summer treat that is virtually fat free and a good supply of vitamin C and fiber. Many people mistakenly think nectarines are simply peaches without fuzz--an understandable association, given that the two fruits are nearly alike in size, texture, and color. Nectarines, however, are generally sweeter than peaches. Botanically, the nectarine is classified as a subspecies of the peach, but it is more accurate to describe each fruit as a genetic variant of the other.

Despite their similarity, nectarines (their name is probably derived from nektar, the Greek word for "drink of the gods") have been distinguished from peaches and other pitted fruits for hundreds of years. Today's modern cross-breeding techniques, in which nectarine varieties are crossed with one another as well as with peaches, have yielded larger, peachlike nectarines with gold and crimson skin and yellow flesh.

Varieties

There are more than 150 nectarine varieties that differ slightly in size, shape, taste, texture, and skin coloring (which ranges from golden yellow with a red blush to almost entirely red). The fruit may be clingstone or freestone (a classification indicating how tightly the flesh clings to the pit). No single variety is superior in all respects, but the most available ones are Fantasia, Summer Grand, Royal Giant, and May Grand.

Availability

Nectarines are available all summer, reaching their peak in July and August. About 98% of the domestic crop is grown in California, though the nectarines produced in southern and eastern states are of excellent quality. Smaller quantities imported from South America or the Middle East are available in winter and early spring; these generally aren't as sweet because they are picked at an earlier stage. (Once a nectarine is picked, it will not get any sweeter.)

Shopping

Select bright, well-rounded nectarines with shades of deep yellow under a red blush. Ripe fruit should yield to gentle pressure, particularly along the seam, and it should have a sweet fragrance. Brightly colored fruits that are firm or moderately hard will "ripen" (not get sweeter, but juicier and softer) within two or three days at room temperature. Avoid fruits that are rock hard or greenish--signs that the fruit was picked too soon and will not ripen properly. Pass up fruits that are mushy or have shriveled skins, both signs of decay. Sometimes the skin of a nectarine may look stained, as though the blush has spread out in an irregular pattern under the skin, but this doesn't affect taste or texture. Moreover, a rosy blush doesn't indicate the degree of ripeness, but is simply a characteristic of the variety.

Storage

Allow nectarines to reach peak eating condition by storing them for two or three days at room temperature in a loosely closed paper bag, away from sunlight. Once the fruit gives slightly to gentle pressure, it's ready to eat. You can keep it fresh for another three to five days by storing it in the refrigerator crisper.

Preparation

Before eating a nectarine whole, wash the fruit under cold running water; if refrigerated, let it warm to room temperature for optimum flavor. Since the flesh of a fresh nectarine darkens when exposed to air, don't slice it until you are ready to use the fruit. You can preserve its color temporarily by dipping the slices in a cup of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice, or by simply tossing them with lemon juice.

Unlike peaches, nectarines do not need to be peeled before eating. However, if you want to peel them, blanch them first by dropping them into boiling water for a minute, then cooling them in ice water; the skins will slip off easily. Rub the peeled fruits with lemon juice to keep them from darkening.

Cooking softens nectarines and enhances their sweetness. It can also salvage slightly underripe fruit.

Baking: Place peeled, halved, and pitted nectarines cut-side up in a baking pan and brush with citrus juice to prevent browning. Sprinkle with sugar or drizzle with honey and bake in a 325°F oven until tender and heated through. Cooking time: about 25 minutes.

Grilling/broiling: Place peeled, halved, pitted nectarines on the grill or under the broiler; brush with fruit juice and cook until heated through. For oven broiling, the fruit may be sprinkled with brown sugar, which will caramelize under the broiler. Cooking time: four to eight minutes.

Poaching: Immerse nectarine halves, quarters, or slices in simmering fruit juice or wine and cook until tender. Cooking time: five to seven minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Nectarines/1 medium

67
Total fat (g)
0.6
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
2.2
1
Carbohydrate (g)
16
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
0


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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