The Peach (melocoton) grows on a deciduous tree native to the region of Northwest China between the Tarim Basin and the north slopes of the Kunlun Shan mountains from where they spread to rest of the world via ancient silk routes. It belongs to the genus Prunus which includes the cherry, apricot, almond and plum in the rose family.
In general, each Peach tree bears numerous, almost uniform sized fruits between May and September. Its fruit is about the size of a small apple, measuring about 7-10cm in diameter and weighing about 130-160gm. The Peach has a fuzzy outer surface with longitudinal depressions extending from its stem end to the tip.
Cultivated Peaches are divided into clingstones and freestones, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. Both varieties 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.
Peach and nectarines are the same species, even though they are regarded commercially as different fruits. Flat or donut Peaches are flattened, disc like stone-free fruits drawn inward like a disc at its centre. They have similar flavour and taste to a Peach.
Peaches grow in a fairly limited range in dry, continental or temperate climates, since the trees have a chilling requirement that tropical or subtropical areas generally cannot satisfy. Once the chilling period is fulfilled, the plant enters a second type of dormancy, the quiescence period when buds break and grow during warm weather.
The first pest to attack the Peach tree early in the year, when other food is scarce, is the earwig which feeds on blossoms and young leaves at night, preventing fruiting and weakening newly planted trees. Peach blossom is a good pollen source for honey bees and a honeydew source for aphids.
Peach trees are prone to a disease called leaf curl, which usually does not directly affect the fruit, but does reduce the crop yield by partially defoliating the tree. Several fungicides can be used to combat the disease. The fruit is also susceptible to brown rot or a dark reddish spot.
Peaches and nectarines are best stored at temperatures of 0°C (32°F) and high humidity. They are highly perishable and should be consumed or canned within two weeks of harvest. Peaches continue to ripen after being picked from the tree.
Peaches are low in calories (100gm provide just 39 calories) and contain no saturated fats and they are packed with numerous health promoting compounds, minerals and vitamins.
Fresh Peaches are a moderate source of antioxidant, Vitamin-C,
Vitamin-A and ß-carotene. Vitamin A is essential for night vision. It is also essential for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin A is known to offer protection from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Peaches are also rich in many vital minerals such as potassium, fluoride and iron. Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Fluoride is a component of bones and teeth and is essential for prevention of dental caries. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.