Some flavors enhance peaches, like salt making them taste sweeter. Other ingredients balance them, like spicy flavors keeping sweetness in check. This article explores flavors that compliment fresh peaches.
The seasonal recipes add dimension without overpowering their delicate flavor. Time to stop by your farmers market and pick up some peaches while they're in season.
Flavor: yellow vs white peaches
Yellow peaches have more acidity, which can add complexity to their flavor. They also have higher concentrations of several flavonols (quercetin and kaempferol), which adds the slightest hint of bitterness. In general, yellow peaches also have firmer flesh that holds better when baked, canned, or subjected to heat.
White peaches have the same amount of sugar as yellow varieties, but they taste sweeter. This is due to their lower acidity (which essentially blocks some of the sweet flavor). Don't use white peaches for canning recipes, as their acidity can be too low for safe canning. Their flesh tends to be juicer (which can be bad for pies, but great for smoothies).
However, the biggest impact on sweetness and flavor isn't the color of the flesh, but rather when the peach was picked. The longer it was left to ripen on the tree, the sweeter it will be. Once harvested, they will soften and get more aromatic, but they won't get sweeter.
Hot and dry weather also make peaches sweeter, which is why the variety from the same grower can taste different from week to week, or from one year to the next.
Basil pairs with peaches so well because of its unique spicy, yet subtly sweet flavor profile. As described by Kimberly McGee, basil has "a spicy aroma, and the taste is pungent but leans toward a sweet, clove-like back end."
Look for sweet basil varieties like Genovese, Napoletano (lettuce-leaf), fino verde, Mammoth, Romanesco (strongest flavor). Note that almost any basil sold at the grocery store will be a sweet variety. Also give cinnamon basil a try for another interesting pairing.
Ginger is both sweet and spicy, which is the underlying reason it compliments peaches so well (similar to basil). While it pairs well with excellent tasting peaches, I find ginger particularly useful when trying to enhance ones that lack flavor.
Jalapenos & spicy peppers
We went from basil's sweet & aromatic, to ginger's sweet & spicy, to a pure pepper spice to complement fresh summer peaches. Spicy and sweet flavors balance each other.
It's why hot chocolate with cayenne is so tasty, or a margarita with a chili spiced rim. Give one of these recipes a try for something fun this summer.
Bacon & prosciutto
The acidity in peaches cuts through the fatty, rich flavors of meats like bacon and prosciutto. Yellow peaches have more acidity than white peaches, which can make them the best choice for this pairing.
In addition, salt enhances sweet flavors (and some taste receptors only activate when both salt & sugar are present). If you end up with peaches that aren't very sweet (likely from being picked too early), try pairing them with something salty.
Peaches & cream
A classic flavor pairing for good reason since peaches pair so well with most dairy from light cheeses to heavy cream. We can't 'taste' fat, but it does help distribute flavor around our mouths as we chew, getting a richer tasting experience.
In addition, many flavor compounds are fat-soluble, releasing more flavor (and aromas) than if fat wasn't present. The freshest, most in-season peaches are best with cream, as their flavor is front and center.
Homemade for flavor
Nothing beats the flavor of a homemade recipe instead of store-bought. Ideally, you have fantastic tasting peaches to use. But sometimes you need a good use for soft or not-so-flavorful peaches (that maybe your bought in bulk at the farmers market). Give your mediocre peaches a second life with any of these recipes. The results will still taste better than store-bought.
10 different Pies
For the best peach pie, stir sugar together with peaches and let sit for 20-30 minutes, as demonstrated in this Food Wishes video. That draws out some of the juices, which can be reduced to a thicker consistency, preventing a watery pie while preserving all of the flavor. (I've tried this and it works as promised).
To further prevent a soggy pie, try using a lattice crust or another type of open-form topping so extra moisture can evaporate.
Other peach desserts
These desserts use many of the flavors we've discussed already: ginger, peppers, and cream. A few more flavors pop up here:
- Brown sugar's slight molasses flavor enhances some of the caramel notes in ripe yellow peaches
- Bourbon also increases the caramel flavor
- Lavender and vanilla both bring out the floral notes, which are more pronounced in white peaches (and nectarines)
The floral notes of peaches are enhanced when paired with slightly floral tea or champagne. Peach cocktails are also a great way to use up a lot of peaches, especially if they are too soft or overripe to slice up. Muddle or puree them into a cocktail for a refreshing summer drink.
Soft peaches can be used up in cocktails, compotes, or syrups. Firm peaches are better in baked goods like muffins, or when they need to hold their shape after being cooked.
These salads are full of flavor as they span many of the complementary pairings: basil, jalapenos, prosciutto, and creamy cheeses. Some also add a bitter element with arugula, kale, and other bitter green. Bitterness balances out the sweet peach flavor, making the sum better than the parts.
Peach & cheese appetizers are always a crowd pleaser, just beware of the melting point if serving them on a hot summer day. Alternatively, give the chipotle peach salsa or the refreshing summer rolls a try.
Peaches work well with any meat, honestly. They sweeten up fatty cuts of meat like ribs, and add their delicate sweet-floral flavor to chicken or fish. I included a couple spicy vegetarian options as well.
Peaches are excellent when grilled, adding a smoky dimension to the flavor as well as some potential caramelization. Be sure to use peaches on the firmer end of the spectrum or they will fall apart under the high heat.
More summer fruit recipes & resources
See what fruit and vegetables are currently in season. Or check out these related guides & recipe collections:
- Nectarine guide & recipes
- Substituting nectarines & peaches
- Plums: guide & recipes (from pies to chicken wings)
- Plumcots & pluots (what are they?)
- Cherries: guide & recipes
- Blueberries: guide & 75 recipes
If you have a question, leave a comment and I'll do what I can to answer you (always promptly!).