Delicious and widely popular peaches are native to China, from where they spread to rest of the world via ancient silk route. Peach fruits belong to the genus Prunus; in the family of Rosaceae. Scientific name: Prunus persica.
Technically, peach fruit is a “drupe” having similar features as that of other Prunus members including plums, nectarine, almonds, and damson.
The peach plant is described as a small, deciduous tree that grows up to 25 to 30 feet tall, and widely grown in the United States, Europe, and China for its juicy fruits. There are several cultivars of peach grown all over the world which differ in their color, size and growing characteristics based upon their regions of origin.
Every year, a peach tree blossoms in the spring. In general, each peach tree bears many, almost uniform sized fruits between May and September months. Its fruit is about the size of a small apple, measuring about 7-10 cm in diameter and weigh about 130-160 grams. Its fuzzy outer surface features longitudinal furrows extending from its stem end to the tip. Depending on the pit that is free or firmly attached to the pulp, they are classified into freestone or clinging stone varieties.
Donut peach or Saturn peaches, (Prunus persica var. platycarpais) a flattened disc-like freestone fruit drawn inward like a disc at its center. They have white flesh and similar peach flavor and taste.
Internally, the flesh is soft, juicy, sweet and tart with a pleasant fruity aroma. Depending on the variety, its flesh may feature white to creamy-yellow color with a centrally placed single pit. The stone encloses an almond or apricot like kernel inside the hard shell (pit). The kernels can be edible only in small quantities.
Health Benefits of Peaches
Wonderfully delicious peaches are low in calories (100 g just provide 39 calories) and contain no saturated fats. Nonetheless, they are packed with numerous health promoting compounds, minerals, and vitamins.
The total measured antioxidant strength (ORAC value) of 100 g peach fruit is 1814 TE (Trolox equivalents).
Fresh peaches are a moderate source of antioxidant, vitamin-C. Vitamin-C has antioxidant effects and is required for connective tissue synthesis inside the human body. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps develop resistance against infectious agents, and help scavenges harmful free radicals.
Fresh fruits are also a small source of vitamin-A and ß-carotene. ß-carotene is a pro-vitamin, which converts into vitamin-A inside the body. Vitamin-A is essential for night vision. It is also essential for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin-A is known to offer protection from lung and oral cavity cancers.
They are rich in many vital minerals such as potassium, fluoride, and iron. Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Fluoride is a component of bones and teeth and is essential for prevention of dental caries. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Peaches contain health promoting flavonoid poly phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and ß-cryptoxanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
Selection and Storage
Peaches can be available year round; however, the season for fresh fruits lasts from May until October. In the stores, look for fresh ones featuring rich color and may still have a slight whitish “bloom” on their surface indicating freshness, and that they have not been over handled. Avoid ones with excessive softness, or with surface cuts and bruises. Ripe fruits yield to gentle pressure and feature sweet aroma.
Slightly hard but mature fruits can be kept at room temperature until they ripen. Ripening process can be enhanced by applying ethylene (similar to the ripening of bananas). Storing inside a paper bag concentrates this gas and hastens the ripening process.
Ripe fruits can be kept in the refrigerator but preferably be brought back to room temperature before eating to enjoy their rich flavor.
Dried peaches are also available in the select stores along with raisins, currants, apricots, dates, etc.
Preparation and Serving tips
Wash them in cold running water just before using. Fresh ripe peaches should be enjoyed as a whole along with the skin. Otherwise, incise the fruit lengthwise deeply until its hard seed felt and then remove the seed. Skin can be peeled using a paring knife as in apples.
As in apples, sliced peach fruit sections turns brown on exposure to air (an enzymatic brownish discoloration due to the conversion of ferrous oxide to ferric oxide). If you have to serve them sliced, rinse slices in water added with few drops of fresh lemon.
To peel the skin, score a small cross at the base end using a knife. Dip in boiling water just for a half-a-minute and immediately immerse in cold water to cool quickly. Then peel its skin away from the cross.
Here are some serving tips:
Peach sections are a great addition to fruit salads.
Fresh fruits are being used in a variety of fruit cocktails along with grapes, pineapple, cherry, and plums.
Peaches are being used in the preparation of pie, baklava, charlottes, tart, desserts, jams and jellies.
They can also be used in various traditional recipes.
Peaches are less allergic foods. Consumption of peach kernels in large amounts over a period of time, however, can cause weakenss and stomachache.