When are nectarines in season?
Both yellow and white nectarines are in-season at the same time. Their ripening dates are dependent on the specific variety, and both colors have early, mid, and late-season varieties available.
They are in season from about May through October with the peak season in July and August. California provides about 98% of nectarines in the US because of the favorable hot and dry growing climate.
However, many farmers around the country do grow nectarines and peaches, so you should check your local farmers markets, probably in July and August. You can also look for a UPick farm near you to get even fresher nectarines.
Signs of a ripe nectarine
The first thing to do is look past the beautiful red color, as hard as that is to do. It’s not the best indicator of ripeness, especially since newer varieties have been bred specifically to have more red color. That color sells well and makes people think they are ripe, even when picked too early.
Signs of a good nectarine
- Aroma: the most reliable way to pick a good-tasting nectarine is by smell. It will have a sweet, strong aroma (even more than peaches).
- Stem end: the stem end should be full and plump. Look for a yellow stripe across the top that is indented. As the fruit ripens on the tree, it pushes against the branch. This creates an indent and shades it from the sun (preventing the skin from turning red).
- Color: the red color is deceiving because genetics play as much of a role in that as ripening does. In fact, many varieties have been created specifically for containing more red color, as that increases sales. Instead, look at the background color – the color underneath. Green hues mean it was picked too early and won’t have much flavor. Golden hues indicate they were picked mature and more ripe.
- Hard vs soft: in order to get it to you, they must be picked before fully softening on the tree. If you are using the fruit right away, buy ones that are slightly soft (those have likely been in the store longer, softening on their shelves instead of your counter). Otherwise, hard ones will last longer and soften on your counter. At a farmers market, you can tell them what you are using the nectarines for and when, and they’ll likely pick out the best ones for you.
Should I buy organic?
If you can afford it, probably. The EPA tests pesticide levels in various fruits and vegetables every year. Non-organic peaches have a medium amount of pesticides, which means that eating 5-10 servings in a day would put you over the known-to-be-safe limits.
The data collected by the EPA looks at the toxicity and amount of each pesticide found in the edible portions of the fruit (not including zest). The full details can be found over on the Consumer Reports website.
Leave on your counter and eat in a few days. You can put them in the fridge if fully ripe, though only for a few days or their flavor and texture might deteriorate.
White vs yellow nectarines
Just like peaches, white and yellow nectarines have similar sugar levels. However, white nectarines taste sweeter because they have less acid than the yellow varieties. Acid impacts our tastebuds, decreasing our perceptions of sugar (and increasing sourness).
People are split on whether white or yellow peaches taste better. Those who prefer white nectarines love the extra honey sweet flavor enjoyed during peak season. Those who favor the yellow varieties like more complex profile thanks to the higher acid levels.
Is a nectarine really a peach?
Nectarines are actually a type of peach without the fuzz. They are the same genetically, and just one recessive gene is responsible for the fuzzless skin.
But that doesn’t mean they taste the same (as you’ve probably noticed). Nectarines definitely have similar flavor to peaches, but distinct differences too. Nectarines tend to be smaller, firmer, and have more honey-like aromas.
Substituting nectarines for peaches
Because of their similarities, nectarines can be used interchangeably with almost peach recipe. In fact, sometimes nectarines are preferred for their smooth skin and firmer flesh.
Pies, cobblers, and tarts
Traditional peach pies & cobblers can easily use nectarines and might actually turn out better. That’s because the firmer nectarine flesh softens when cooked, but still holds it shape. It’s the same reason that yellow peaches are better for pies than white ones (which have softer flesh).
Peaches’ fuzzy skin can be distracting in a tart, so they are most often skinned. If you want to skip that fuss, use nectarines. They don’t have to be peeled since their smooth skin is barely noticeable.
Soft-fleshed fruit doesn’t hold up well to grilling, like really ripe peaches or nectarines. You’ll want to use fruit that hasn’t ripened to that super soft stage. The typically firmer nectarine flesh comes in handy again – holding up to grilling better than peaches.
Salsas, chutneys, and other sauces
Recipes that require peeling a peach can instead use an unpeeled nectarine, saving you time. From a summer salsa to a sauce for grilled pork. The only exception would be anything pureed – as the skin might still need to be removed, even from a nectarine.
Canning – maybe not
Canning requires specific acid levels to do so safely. I wouldn’t substitute nectarines for peaches, as the acid value could be different enough to cause problems. In fact, most experts advise only canning yellow peaches, because white ones have less acid, sometimes dropping below the levels needed for safe canning.
Why you shouldn’t peel nectarines
Leaving the skin on a nectarines not only saves you time, it improves the flavor. The skin contains a lot of aromas and flavor (like many other fruits & vegetables). Keeping the skin intact for pies, tarts, salsas, etc, provides more flavor.
The skin can also bleed a little red dye into your recipes. This can be used on purpose to do things like dye ice cream a light pink.
Each recipe is reviewed to make sure all of the ingredients are in season when nectarines are available (or uses ingredients available year-round). The recipes are grouped by parts of the season (early, late, or anytime).
…For earlier in the season, May through July
Grilled nectarine, blueberry, and chicken salad with honey mustard dressing – recipe by As Easy as Apple Pie
Blueberries have a shorter season than Nectarines, so make this in summer while you can still get them. Valencia oranges are in season in summer and fall, so look for that variety. The rest of the ingredients are available year-round.
…For later in the season, July to the end
Nectarine and corn salad with chipotle shrimp – recipe by The Whole Bite
Corn is in season a month or two after nectarines, so you can make this once corn shows up in the market.
…For anytime nectarines are in season
Gorgonzola stuffed burger with grilled nectarines – recipe by Williams-Sonoma
Nectarine tart with lemon-mascarpone filling – recipe by The Busy Baker
Nectarine and ginger lemonade – recipe by Happy and Harried
What else is in season?
Or take a look at current seasonal produce: