Nectarines Are So Much Better Than Peaches (Sorry)

updated Feb 24, 2021
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Fresh Nectarines
Credit: Kristin Duvall/Stocksy

In a world filled with divisive food debates — should cornbread contain sugar, does pineapple belong on pizza, can you rightly call a hot dog a sandwich — there are few on which more people are wrong than the great stone fruit debate. 

Nectarines, the smoother, thinner-skinned sister to the peach, often take the back seat to the grand proclamations professed by peach promoters. But sometimes the underdog deserves the win, and such is true of the nectarine, which I firmly believe is the better of the two fruits.

Peaches hold the popularity crown — the king of fruits, celebrated for their big bursts of sunshine-flavored juice. Its storied history goes back millennia to China, then transiting to Europe through Persia (from whence it got its scientific name, Prunus persica), and then to the U.S. well before the country existed. Its deep roots — both literally and figuratively — in the American South give it a mythically outsized reputation.

Wherever the peach went, the nectarine was sure to follow: fuzziness in peaches is a dominant trait, so the nectarine is its smaller, rarer sibling. On top of the smooth, thin skin that makes them significantly more pleasant to eat, they are ever so slightly firmer, making them ideal for eating out of hand or slicing into a salad. And, as the name implies, they are as sweet as nectar. When it comes to picking up a fruit, one the perfect size for an afternoon snack, there simply is no greater pleasure than the pure, unadulterated, unimpeded bites of sunshine that come from a perfect nectarine.

I’ve always known this was not a popular opinion. “It’s here, friends,” I announced last week on Twitter, “the time for my annual controversial stone fruit tweet: nectarines are far superior to peaches.” Never mind that an actual search of my Twitter feed reveals that I’ve never dared to announce this in public before; I have long believed this. I was happily surprised to see that most of Twitter agreed, with those on Team Nectarine responding at four times those supporting Team Peach (and almost all of those either from or in Georgia).

 “Shrug. Botanically, they’re essentially the same fruit though,” someone responded. “You probably prefer one variety of nectarine or dislike the fuzz on the peach.” Well, yes, that is precisely the point. It’s not even a matter of dislike — I like peaches, I just find them inferior to nectarines. I would take either over a plum or a banana or most other fruits, though. But yes, the fuzz is the main factor in two otherwise extremely similar fruits.

In my previous career as a marketing manager, I spent most of my spring and summer managing an event called “Peach-O-Rama.” I’ve been to the peach orchards, I’ve plucked the fresh fruit, I’ve eaten it still warm from the heat of the day. The problem is, no matter how good that peach is, before you get to the sweet perfection within, you have to touch your tongue to the outside. Another Twitter responder explained it most succinctly: “If I wanted to suck all the moisture out of my body I would chew on cotton, not try to eat a furry nectarine.”

I am in agreement, even as someone who, since learning this was a thing you could do, eats kiwis whole, skin and all. Because, again, it’s not that the fuzz on a peach is bad — it’s just that the peach would need to be significantly better than the nectarine to make up for the fuzz factor. Which all of Georgia fought their way into my mentions to explain how their peaches are.

I admit that I’ve never had a Georgia peach, so perhaps they are that good, but when I gave into the Georgians raising a ruckus in my mentions and tried to order some shipped to my door, it was too late: the season was over and everyone was out of stock. 

I fished another local Washington nectarine out of the box on my counter and let the flavors of hot Yakima afternoons wash over me. What if, I wondered, the actual problem wasn’t that I hadn’t had a good Georgia peach, but that there just aren’t any good Georgia nectarines for them to know what they’re missing out on?