Nectarines and peaches are actually the same species and have very similar characteristics. They can be swapped in almost any recipe (except for canning).
Let's take a look at their differences and similarities, then take a look at ways to swap one for the other.
What is the difference between a nectarine and a peach?
First, it's helpful to know the difference between these two fruit. Nectarines are actually a type of peach without the fuzz. They are the same genetically, and just one specific gene is responsible for the fuzzy skin (or lack there of).
How are they different?
- Peaches have fuzzy skin, nectarines don't
- Peaches are larger
- Nectarines have firmer flesh
- Nectarines tend to have more floral aromas & flavor
How are they the same?
- They are the same species
- Both come in yellow and white varieties
- Both can be freestone or clingstone (whether the pit easily removes or not)
- Similar levels of sugar content
Substituting nectarines for peaches
Because of their similarities, nectarines can be used interchangeably with almost any peach recipe. In fact, sometimes nectarines are preferred for their smooth skin and firmer flesh.
If you've ever tried to peel peaches and been frustrated with the slow process, try using nectarines and leaving the skins on.
Alternatively, if you want to use peaches for a nectarine-based recipe, consider peeling them first.
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 - only yellow peaches
Canning requires specific acid levels to safely prevent foodborne illness. The problem isn't that nectarines are definitely unsafe for canning, it's that their acid levels haven't been tested by the FDA in order to provide safe canning instructions.
Because of this, 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.