Few things capture the essence of summer like biting into a juicy, sun-ripened peach. In season from June through September, there are many species of stone fruits that fall within the Prunus genus, which includes peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, apricots and cherries. Altogether, there are said to be over 400 different species of stone fruits that are characterized by their large (relative to fruit size), hard seeds—or pits, as they're called. Check out our handy guide to some of the season's most popular stone fruit varieties:
Peaches, nectarines and apricots
Peaches and nectarines
Have you ever wondered why some peaches and nectarines can be easily split into halves, while others are nearly impossible to remove from their pits without some struggle and bruising? That's because there are actually two different varieties: clingstones and freestones. Freestone peaches and nectarines come apart easily, as their name suggests, making them a great option for snacking on-the-go. Clingstones require a bit of knife work and some dexterity, but these peaches and nectarines tend to be sweeter and juicier than the freestone variety, which makes them well worth the effort. Look for these at your local farmers market as early as late May through September.
If you've ever tried making apricot preserves, then you know that this delicate stone fruit variety is rich in pectin. In fact, the high concentration of pectin is what accounts for the creamy texture of ripe apricots, and what causes them to turn chewy when dried. Many of the dried apricots you see in stores are treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve their natural orange color. Left un-sulfured, dried apricots darken and turn brown, taking on a slightly cooked flavor.
Aroma analysis: peaches, nectarines and apricots
Both peaches and nectarines have a unique aroma profile, containing fruity notes and a high concentration of creamy notes. Depending upon a varietal's molecular makeup, it can smell peach-like, creamy or even more like coconut. Apricots share a similar profile to that of peaches, while containing greater amounts of soapy-scented linalool and almond-scented benzaldehyde.
Searching for a savory summer pairing for stone fruits? Try pairing nectarines with roast quail. Both ingredients contain fruity-peach lactones. And like many other varieties of stone fruit, nectarines contain nutty-scented benzaldehyde molecules, which we also find in green peas. This flavorful dish is served with a Sichuan peppercorn-spiked sauce that adds a pungent, citrusy-lemon bite. Find the recipe >>
We bet you've never had a chocolate brownie like this before! Studded with crunchy almonds containing the same almond-scented benzaldehyde molecules we find in chocolate and peaches, our brownie comes topped with a smooth bourbon vanilla panna cotta full of creamy-scented lactones. A fruity peach compote infused with fresh tarragon adds a layer of citrusy, peppery notes for contrast. Find the recipe >>
What do apricots, mascarpone and Japanese koshian all have in common? Benzaldehyde and lactones. The fruity-peach lactone molecules found in apricots are also present in koshian, a traditional sweet red bean paste that we combine with mascarpone for this recipe. The benzaldehyde molecules in mascarpone add both a cheesy-creamy texture and aroma, together with the same nutty notes as in our poached apricots. The koshian-mascarpone cream also contains caramellic-maple notes, which can be found in our coffee caramel. Find the recipe >>
Plums and pluots
Plums can range in taste from sweet to tart and tangy, depending upon the cultivar. Among the most common varieties we find are Reine-Claude, mirabelles, quetsches (or damson), pruneau d'Agen and Santa Rosas. Plums can be juicy and sweet when eaten fresh, though their skins tend to be puckery sour. There are many different culinary preparations for plums, from jam-making to dried plums and more. In the US, sweet plums are sun-dried and called prunes, which are consumed for their health benefits. Salted, dried plums are a popular snack among many cultures around the world (e.g. Mexican saladito, Hawaiian li hing mui or Chinese hua mei). Meanwhile, the British have a type of cider-like alcoholic beverage known as plum jerkum, which is made from pressing and fermenting plums. The juice from these flavorful stone fruits can also be fermented to create plum wines.
Developed in the late 20th century as a hybrid of Japanese plums and apricots, pluots are favored for their intensely sweet, complex flavors. Some of the most popular cultivars you can find at your local farmers markets are the flavor kings, emerald drops, elephant hearts and dapple dandies.
Aroma analysis: plums and pluots
The aroma profile of plums and pluots can vary based on the different cultivars. In general, these stone fruits tend to contain fruity-apple, floral-honey and citrus-orange notes.
If you've never combined plums and tomatoes before, you should definitely give this dessert a try! Both ingredients share the same citrusy-lemon, floral-rose and floral-violet aromas, making plums and tomatoes a tasty summer pairing. We start by macerating the plums in a sugary spice mixture to enhance their stone fruity aroma. Confited tomatoes add a tangy contrast, together with a sprinkling of bittersweet dark cocoa crumbles for texture. A fresh mascarpone sorbet rounds out this summer stone fruit treat with green-fatty notes. Find the recipe >>
It's true—mangoes are also considered stone fruits! Mangoes come in all shapes and sizes, depending upon the variety. Ripe mangoes are orangish-yellow in color with a sweet, fragrant, juicy flesh that can be eaten raw. They are often used to make juices, smoothies, puddings, ice creams, lassis and chutneys. Hundreds of mango varieties exist, some of which are used in cooking. In India, Thailand and other Southeast Asian cultures, sour, green, unripened mangoes are pickled using salt, chiles, soy sauce and/or fish sauce.
Aroma analysis: mango
It's difficult to generalize the aroma profile of mangoes since there are so many different varieties grown all over the world. Typically, these stone fruits contain a woody-piney scent (try nibbling on the flesh surrounding the stone), but each mango varietal bears its own unique aroma characteristics.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy fresh fish during the hot summer months is ceviche. It's a popular preparation method throughout Latin America that calls for curing—which actually cooks—the fish or seafood with citric acid in a process known as 'denaturing.' In this recipe, we use lime juice to cure the cod and for its citrusy link to our mango salsa—a classic pairing in Latin American cuisine. Find the recipe >>