Peaches – History, cultivation, production, nutrition facts, health benefits, uses and applications

Peaches – History, cultivation, production, nutrition facts, health benefits, uses and applications

Botanical information about peaches

Peach, Prunus persica grows up to 23 ft tall and wide. However, when pruned properly, trees are usually 10–13 ft tall and wide. The leaves are lanceolate, 2.8–6.3 in long, 0.79–1.18 in broad, pinnately veined. The peac fruit has yellow or whitish flesh, a delicate aroma, and a skin that is either velvety (peaches) or smooth (nectarines) in different cultivars. The flesh is very delicate and easily bruised in some cultivars, but is fairly firm in some commercial varieties, especially when green. The single, large seed is red-brown, oval shaped and is surrounded by a wood-like husk. Peaches, along with cherries, plums and apricots, are stone fruits (drupes). There are various heirloom varieties, including the Indian Peach, or Indian Blood Peach, which arrives in the latter part of the summer, and can have color ranging from red and white, to purple.

Cultivated peaches are divided into clingstones and freestones, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not; both can have either white or yellow flesh. Peaches with white flesh typically are very sweet with little acidity, while yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acidic tang coupled with sweetness, though this also varies greatly. Both colors often have some red on their skin. Low-acid white-fleshed peaches are the most popular kinds in China, Japan, and neighboring Asian countries, while Europeans and North Americans have historically favored the acidic, yellow-fleshed cultivars.

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History of peaches

Although its botanical name Prunus persica refers to Persia (present Iran) from where it came to Europe, genetic studies suggest peaches originated in China, where they have been cultivated since the Neolithic period. Until recently, it was believed that the cultivation started circa 2000 BC. More recent evidence indicates that domestication occurred as early as 6000 BC in Zhejiang Province of China. The oldest archaeological peach stones are from the Kuahuqiao site. Archaeologists point to the Yangtze River Valley as the place where the early selection for favorable peach varieties probably took place. Peaches were mentioned in Chinese writings and literature beginning from the early 1st millennium BC.

Peach was brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and eventually made it to England and France in the 17th century, where it was a prized and expensive treat. The horticulturist George Minifie supposedly brought the first peaches from England to its North American colonies in the early 17th century, planting them at his Estate of Buckland in Virginia. Although Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, American farmers did not begin commercial production until the 19th century in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and finally in Virginia.

Peach varieties

Hundreds of peach and nectarine cultivars are known. These are classified into two categories — the freestones and the clingstones, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. Freestones are those whose flesh separates readily from the pit. Clingstones are those whose flesh clings tightly to the pit. Some cultivars are partially freestone and clingstone, so are called semi free. Freestone types are preferred for eating fresh, while clingstone types are for canning. The fruit flesh may be creamy white to deep yellow; the hue and shade of the color depends on the cultivar. Peaches with white flesh typically are very sweet with little acidity, while yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acidic tang coupled with sweetness, though this also varies greatly. Both colors often have some red on their skin. Low-acid white-fleshed peaches are the most popular kinds in China, Japan, and neighboring Asian countries, while Europeans and North Americans have historically favored the acidic, yellow-fleshed cultivars. Peach breeding has favored cultivars with more firmness, more red color, and shorter fuzz on the fruit surface. These characteristics ease shipping and supermarket sales by improving eye appeal. However, this selection process has not necessarily led to increased flavor. Peaches have a short shelf life, so commercial growers typically plant a mix of different cultivars to have fruit to ship all season long.

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Cultivation of peaches

For the best productivity, keep standard peaches pruned to about 15 feet tall. Most available peach varieties are grafted, meaning the root system and the fruiting section of the tree is different. Peaches usually come to harvest from mid- to late summer. Peach fruit requires 3 to 5 months to reach harvest from the time flowers are pollinated. Peach trees have fruit producing lives of about 12 years. Peaches are divided into freestone and clingstone cultivars. The flesh of a freestone peach will separate easily from the seed. The flesh of a clingstone peach does not. Freestone peaches are best for eating fresh out of hand. Clingstone peaches are a good choice for cooking and preserving. The flesh of the peach fruit is most often yellow, but some cultivars have white flesh. White flesh, like yellow flesh, is tender and tasty. A peach tree can bear up to 66 pounds (30 kg) of fruit each year. Peaches grow best in USDA zones 5 through 9. Peach trees require a chilling period of between 600 and 900 hours at a temperature of 45°F or less each winter in order to fruit the next season. Peaches do not grow well where the temperature falls below 0°F for extended periods. Where winter temperatures fall lower than -10°F, peach wood will be damaged. Choose a peach variety that grows well in your region; check with the nearby cooperative extension for a cultivar recommendation. Plant peaches in spring when the soil becomes workable. Where winter temperatures do not become very cold, peaches also can be planted in fall. Balled and bur lapped peach trees can be planted at any time during the growing season. Position the soil ball in the planting hole to the same depth the tree was growing at the nursery. When the tree is positioned in the hole, remove the twine from the ball. You can gently slide the burlap from under the ball or open it at the top and set it in the hole with the soil-covered root ball (the burlap will gradually rot away). Plant standard peaches 18 to 20 feet apart. Plant dwarf peach trees 5 to 6 feet apart. Peaches for yearly harvest should be pruned smaller than their natural size at maturity. Most peaches are self-fertile and do not require pollinizers. Bees help transfer pollen between trees. When the weather is cool and insects are not active, peaches will benefit from hand pollinating. The varieties Indian Free and J.H. Hale require cross pollination. Water peaches regularly–at least weekly–during the first year in the ground. Established trees require less regular watering. For the most succulent, juicy fruit keep the soil evenly moist, not wet. Peaches will produce where watering is infrequent. A peach tree can grow from 1 to 1 ½ feet per year. Annual pruning is important to keep the tree from becoming unwieldly. Pruning will enhance productivity and ensure a quality crop. Unpruned trees will produce small crops and small fruit. A peach tree can be lightly pruned at any time of the year; heavy pruning should be done in late fall after the tree has dropped its leaves and gone dormant or in early spring before new buds appear.

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Harvesting of peaches

The exact time to pick peaches is determined by the cultivar, but generally they are harvested from late June through August. Color is a great indicator of maturity. Peaches are ripe when the ground color of the fruit changes from green to completely yellow. Some of the newer peach varieties have a red tinge to the skin, but this is not a reliable barometer of ripeness. There is a fine line when harvesting peaches. You want the fruit to hang on the tree long enough for the flavor and sugar content to peak, but not so long that it becomes overripe. Overripe fruit reduces storage time and increases the possibility of disease, insect and bird damage. Also, peaches will ripen in color, juiciness and texture off the tree, but will lack in flavor and sweetness. The best indicator of the correct time for picking peach fruit is a taste test. Although lesser in flavor, slightly under ripe fruit can be harvested and ripened indoors in a paper bag if there is an immediate need to harvest due to weather. Clingstone or canning varietals are harvested when the fruit slips freely from the stem. Peaches are not only delicious, but a great source of fiber, niacin, potassium and vitamin C. Once harvested, they will keep in the refrigerator or other cool area (31-32 degrees F./0 degrees C. with a 90 percent humidity) for about two weeks.

Peach growing regions in the United States

As of 2014, peaches are commercially produced in 23 states. The top four states in peach production are California, South Carolina, Georgia and New Jersey. In 2014, California supplied nearly 49 percent of the United States fresh peach crop and more than 96 percent of processed peaches (NASS, 2015). United States total peach production in 2014 was 838,027 tons valued at $629.1 million. California led the nation in peach production, with 620,000 tons valued at $356.1 million. South Carolina followed, producing 60,800 tons valued at $63.3 million. Georgia produced 33,000 tons valued at $36.1 million, and New Jersey produced 21,050 tons valued at $27.9 million (NASS, 2015). The United States is the third-largest producer of peaches/nectarines in the world. China is the leading peach/nectarine producer.

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Health benefits of peaches

Low in saturated fat and cholesterol, peaches contain an impressive assortment of vitamins and minerals to make it a truly nutritious food. Other than the 17 percent daily recommended value in vitamin C per serving, all the other nutritive contents are low, but wait until you see how many there are and what they can do.

Like other vitamins, vitamin C does much more than fighting infection, although that’s a feat in itself. It’s also an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals looking for a place to do damage in the cells and body, and is required for connective tissue synthesis. Its oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value is 1814 on the scale. But it’s important to know that a can of store-bought peaches in heavy syrup gets an ORAC score of 436 – an indication that for all the antioxidants fresh peaches may have, they’re practically obliterated in the canning/sugar-dousing process.

Vitamin A is another nutrient in peaches, offering B-carotenes that convert to retinol, essential for sharp eyesight. It also protects against lung and mouth cancers, and helps maintain healthy mucus membranes and elasticity in the skin due to its polyunsaturated fatty acid content. The darker the peach’s flesh, the more vitamin A it contains.

Minerals also are in abundance in peaches, such as potassium, an enzyme component used to digest foods, help regulate the heart rate, and lower blood pressure. Potassium works with sodium to maintain the body’s water balance.

The iron in peaches is required for red blood cell formation and to carry oxygen from our lungs and throughout our bodies. Another health benefit of peaches is the flavonoids, such as lycopene and lutein, which work together to help prevent macular degeneration, cancer, and heart disease. Zeaxanthin and kryptoxanthin are two more flavonoids, all further protecting against free radicals that prematurely age the body and cause disease.

Other attributes of peaches definitely worth mentioning are vitamin E, vitamin K, niacin, and copper, and to a lesser but significant degree, magnesium, manganese, calcium, and phosphorus.

However, consume peaches in moderation because they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts. Peaches are one food you want to try to buy organic.

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Nutrition facts of peaches

One cup of sliced peach, weighing 154 grams (g) contains:

60 calories
1.4 g of protein
0.4 g of fat
0 g of cholesterol and sodium
16.7 g of carbohydrate
13 g of sugar
2.3 g of fiber
9 milligrams (mg) of calcium
0.4 mg of iron
14 mg of magnesium
31 mg of phosphorus
293 mg of potassium
It is also a good source of vitamins C, A, E, and K, among other nutrients.

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Peach purée

Peach purée is minimally processed to retain better color and flavor. Bulk peach puree concentrates are processed similar to single strength purées. Fresh peach fruit is washed, scrubbed, sorted, blanched and processed through finishers. After the Peach Purée passes through the finishers, the water is then extracted from the product concentrating it up to four times the Brix level before being packaged aseptically or frozen.

 

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