Sweet and juicy peaches are one of North Carolina’s finest summertime fruits. Though they are available year round, they taste best and are less expensive during the summer. In our state, the peach industry is unique, because it sells 90 percent of its crop on the fresh market, directly to the consumer, just days after being picked off the tree.
In 2014, North Carolina produced 4,380 tons of peaches from 1,100 acres, totaling $6.2 million in value to the state’s economy. While our state may not be the biggest grower, it is surely one of the best, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences. N.C. peaches are available from the end of May through August. They can be found at roadside stands, farmers markets, and retail outlets.
Besides their great taste, peaches are full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, and beta-carotene. Peaches are also low in calories, fat free, sodium free, and cholesterol free.
One medium peach contains the following nutritional value: Calories, 40; protein, 0.6 g; carbohydrates, 10 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 0 mg; dietary fiber, 1.5 g; vitamin A, 47 RE.
Peaches can be eaten fresh in salads and smoothies; as a topping for yogurt, ice cream, cereal, pancakes, or waffles; and as a filling for pies, tarts, cobblers, or strudels. They can also be grilled and served as a unique side dish with meat, fish, or poultry. Peaches are also available dried, frozen, canned, and as nectar, jam, or jelly.
For best quality, select peaches that are firm to slightly soft and free from bruises. The best sign of ripeness in a peach is a creamy or golden undertone, often called “ground color.” The rosy “blush” on a peach is not a good indicator of ripeness and differs from one variety to another.
A fresh peach fragrance also indicates ripeness. Avoid peaches with a green ground color as they lack flavor and usually shrivel and become tough rather than ripen. Peaches that are picked green may develop more juice, but they will not become sweeter. When selecting canned peaches, look for those that are labeled “packed in its own juice,” “lite,” or “no sugar added.” These are healthier choices.
Tamika McLean is the Youth Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Associate for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County.