What is a peach?
Sun-kissed peaches, picked straight from the tree – the best way to enjoy this delicious fruit. An Australian classic is ‘Peach Melba’, fragrant, juicy peaches, gently poached in wine and vanilla bean and served with a thick raspberry sauce and creamy vanilla ice cream. A French chef invented this dish in the 1890s to honour the Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba.
The peach tree originated in China and peaches were mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 550 BC. Eventually, peaches were introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great who found them growing in Persia (Iran). The ancient Romans cultivated peaches in the 1st century AD and there are depictions of peach trees in paintings found in towns destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Spanish explorers introduced peaches to the Americas in the 16th century and they appeared in France and England sometime in the 17th century. It took another couple of centuries before peaches were grown in Australia, and nowadays they are commercially grown in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and parts of South Australia and Western Australia.
In Australia, peaches are usually sold by the colour of their flesh (yellow or white). Cultivated peaches are classified into two groups, freestones and clingstones. Freestones have flesh that easily separates from the stone, whereas the flesh clings tightly to the stone in the clingstone variety.Peaches with white flesh are usually sweeter than those with yellow flesh, which tend to be a little tart in flavour.
Why peaches are good to eat
- Peaches are a source of vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Peaches contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of peach supplies about 130 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Peach trees grow best when they are planted in a position that receives full sun. They need regular watering and a cold winter to start producing flowers. The tree is deciduous (loses its leaves every year) and grows to between 4 and 10 m. Recently, dwarf varieties that only grow to around 1 m have become very popular.
Usually, peach trees start producing fruit in their third year of growth. The trees live for about 12 years. Peach trees produce beautiful pink flowers that are similar to cherry blossoms.
Peaches have the most flavour when they are allowed to ripen on the tree. Fruit should be harvested when the flesh has softened slightly (lightly squeeze peaches to test for ripeness) and there is a pleasant smell.
Choose peaches that are firm but have some ‘give’ when you gently squeeze them. Avoid those that have green skin or are extra hard. Fruit with splits, blemishes or other visible damage to their skin should also be avoided.
How to store and keep peaches
Store peaches at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Once ripe, peaches will keep for no more than about five days. Store ripe peaches in the crisper section of your fridge. Use within two to three days.
How to use
- Make a peach crumble – place chopped peaches in a baking tray and sprinkle with a mixture of brown sugar, flour, lemon juice and zest, and cinnamon, then top with a crumble mixture made with rolled oats, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, salt and cinnamon and bake until crisp and golden.
- Try a fiery peach salsa – combine sliced red onion, fresh red chilli, chopped coriander leaves, grated orange rind with chopped grilled peaches, then serve with grilled fish, pork or chicken.
- Serve a nutrient-packed salad – combine chopped cooked beetroot with rocket leaves (or other greens), sliced peaches, sliced shallots, chopped pistachios (or walnuts), goat’s cheese, then dress with olive oil, seasoning and balsamic vinegar before eating.
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Better Health Channel
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