Mad About Science: Peaches

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

It’s just not summer without a bite of America’s favorite fuzzy fruit. You can do a lot with peaches. You can make jams, jellies and juices, turn them into flavored syrup or a sugary glaze, can them, add them to a salad, or eat them right out of your grubby little hands; pretty much anything!

Peaches are stone fruit, which means they have a noticeable seed-pit in the middle. Go ahead and bite into the seed and you’ll find out why it’s called “stone” fruit. Crack!

Stone fruit like peaches are part of the genus “Prunus”, along with plums, apricots, cherries and almonds. They’re also in the same family as roses.

Even though Georgia is the Peach State, California is responsible for a little over half the nation’s peaches. Peaches originated from China, though we’ve found archaeological evidence that peaches have made the rounds globally for about as long as we’ve had civilization and trade networks.

We’ve found fossilized fruit from Egypt, around the time that the Pyramids of Giza were being built. (That’s a 4,000-plus-year-old peach.).

Every wonder why peaches are fuzzy? They may be jealous of my beard, but probably not.

Some hypotheses have arisen over the years as to why peaches are fuzzy, but something like an apple or an orange isn’t. The favorite idea seems to be that it protects the skin and flesh of the fruit from all sorts of things, from fall damage to insects and even water. The peach skin is very soft and very thin unlike the rind of something like an orange, making peaches quite delicate.

If the fuzz is off-putting, you’re in luck! Humans are industrious creatures, and we will go great mechanical lengths to stave off even minor inconveniences.

Canned peaches are always skinned and last for an excruciatingly long time, but if you need to embrace your inner herbivorous predator and just tear into a fresh peach without being inconvenienced by awkward fuzzy tickling on your tongue (you’re such a voracious, unstoppable beast!), pick up a nectarine. Nectarines belong to the same species as the peach, minus the fuzz.

Because of that, they bruise and rot more quickly than their fuzzy friends. There’s always a catch!

Just another excuse to eat them faster.

Peach seeds contain hydrocyanic acid, which is the scientific way of saying bonded hydrogen and cyanide. That sounds utterly mortifying, but it doesn’t contain enough to kill you unless you’re eating a bunch of seeds every day, and really, that’s the least appetizing part, so why would you do that?

While we don’t harvest it from peaches, I thought it was interesting when I found out that they use hydrocyanic acid to make polymers and pharmaceuticals. You’re more likely to get poisoned popping pills and eating plastic than chewing on peach pits.

(Let’s not test that, okay?)

Peaches are best eaten within a couple of days of harvest. That means that the best peaches you’ll ever find are ones that are grown close to us. The farther the peach travels, the longer it stays in the cold chain, the less delicious it’s going to be when you finally get a bite.

If you’re buying a bunch, keep them somewhere cool and insect-free, and try not to pile them up. As the ones on top start to get just right, they may already be resting upon a throne of rot. Spread those puppies out, or eat them fast!

On the nutritional side of things, the average peach has just under 10 percent of your daily value of vitamin A and around 15 percent of your vitamin C. A peach has about two-thirds of the potassium that a banana does, but a peach also has just about half the calories of a banana, so if you’re like me and counting calories (ha, I count calories to set high scores), a peach might be preferable in a dietary pinch.

If you’re looking for a tree to put in your backyard, I personally I couldn’t tell you how well a peach tree would fare. I can tell you that just about any peach tree you’ll buy from a store will be a graft. I’ll always be envious of plants. If humans could just cheaply swap out parts, we’d be a truly incredible species. Lost an arm? I’ll take Terry Crews’ guns for $250.

I saw several peach trees at the farm and feed stores this spring, but I opted for late-blooming apricots and some cold-hardy plums (worth noting, can crossbreed to create apriplums and plucots).

Amidst my spring research, I wasn’t able to find any recommended peach trees for our area; we want things that bloom late to dodge our unpredictable frosts while being drought tolerant. Peaches and nectarines also like fertilizer a lot, and I imagine unamended soil in our area just doesn’t hit some of those fruit trees right.

If you do happen to find something perfect for our weird mix of flash-freezing heat wave alkalinicidity, let me know!

In the meantime, I’m just going to keep buying them by the box and eating them just as fast.

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