Commonly showcased side by side with peaches, nectarines are a similar, but yet different fruit. The best way to identify the difference between a nectarine and peach is by the lack of fuzz on the nectarine.
The nectarine is a cultivar group of peach that has a smooth, fuzzless skin. Though fuzzy peaches and nectarines are commercially regarded as different fruits, with nectarines often erroneously believed to be a crossbreed between peaches and plums, or a "peach with a plum skin", they belong to the same species as peaches. Several genetic studies have concluded in fact that nectarines are created due to a recessive gene, whereas a fuzzy peach skin is dominant. Regular peach trees occasionally produce a few nectarines, and vice versa.
As with peaches, nectarines can be white or yellow, and clingstone or freestone. On average, nectarines are slightly smaller and sweeter than peaches, but with much overlap. The lack of skin fuzz can make nectarine skins appear more reddish than those of peaches, contributing to the fruit's plum-like appearance. The lack of down on the skin also means their skin is more easily bruised than peaches.
Nectarines, like peaches, most likely originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and were cultivated in ancient Persia, Greece and Rome. They were grown in Great Britain in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, and were introduced to America by the Spanish. Today, California grows over 95% of the nectarines produced in the United States.
There are more than 100 varieties of nectarine, in freestone and clingstone varieties. In freestone types the flesh separates from the 'pit' easily, while clingstone types cling to the 'pit.'
Nectarines are low in calories with no sodium or cholesterol.
Ripe fruit are fragrant and give, slightly, to the touch. If they are a under-ripe, leave them at room temperature for 2-3 days to ripen. Look for fruit with smooth unblemished skin. Avoid extremely hard or dull colored fruits and soft fruit with soft, wrinkled, punctured skin.
Nectarines keep for 5 days if stored in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator.
Nectarines can be used and prepared in the same ways as peaches, with no need to peel because they have no fuzz. Leave the skins on when making pies, cobblers and fresh fruit salads, etc.
California nectarines are available from late April and to late August. Almost all of the nectarines available are in California. Chiliean nectarines are available from late December through early March.