With the hot summer days upon us, it means that a new season of fresh fruits are hitting grocery stores and farmers markets. While watermelon and strawberries are often associated with summer, the real stars of the season are stone fruits. Peaches, plums, cherries, and nectarines are examples of stone fruit that are popular when eaten fresh, but they’re also well-known flavors used in many summertime products like cocktail mixes, seltzers, ciders, and smoothies. But what kinds of fruit count as stone fruits?
What Is a Stone Fruit?
Stone fruit (also referred to as drupe) is a botanical term for a type of fruit that has a fleshy outer area surrounding a large pit in the center. All stone fruits have the same basic structure with a thin skin (exocarp) covering flesh (mesocarp) and protecting a central hardened seed (endocarp). The stone that gives the fruit its name comes from the ovary wall of the flower that gradually hardens as the fruit develops. Some berries, like blackberries and raspberries, are also considered stone fruit, but they are aggregate fruits that are made up of small, individual pits.
Unlike some other fruits that can be harvested year-round, stone fruits are primarily limited to the summer months. Harvesting usually begins in late spring and can go until early fall, but the peak season is mid to late summer around July and August. Stone fruits are also very versatile and can be prepared in a variety of both sweet and savory ways. Beyond classics like peach cobbler and cherry pie, stone fruits can be used for grilling, as a fruity addition to a salad, or wrapped in a piece of prosciutto.
Types of Stone Fruit
As noted above, aggregate stone fruits form in clusters of individual drupes, and they all have a similar structure and appearance. As far as non-aggregate stone fruits, there are two basic types: freestone and clingstone. Freestone fruits, as the name implies, are stone fruits that have a pit that can be easily removed. Clingstone, by contrast, are fruits that have a stone that is difficult to remove. Peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots (all members of the Prunus genus) are all available in freestone and clingstone varieties.
Different Varieties of Stone Fruit
Some examples of stone fruit are quite familiar to the average American since they are regularly eaten fresh or used as ingredients in various recipes. Other examples, like coconuts or some types of berries, may be surprising to most people. Below are some examples of the different varieties of stone fruit:
- Peaches: Known for being a key ingredient in many different summer desserts, peaches are one of the most popular varieties of stone fruit. With its famous fuzzy skin and yellow or white varieties, the peach is a fruit that is welcome in many different contexts.
- Nectarines: Nectarines are closely related to peaches, both in flavor and color, but nectarines have smooth skin rather than fuzzy. Nectarines also tend to have firmer flesh than peaches, with a texture closer to an apple.
- Plums: Plums are perhaps best known for the variety with a deep purple or black skin, but they also come in shades of red and yellow. While plums are typically one of the juiciest stone fruits, they are also often dehydrated and then referred to as prunes.
- Apricots: Apricots have fuzzy skin similar to peaches, but they tend to be smaller. Apricots are also more tart than most other stone fruits, which is part of the reason they are often subjected to a dehydration process that increases their sweetness.
- Cherries: Cherries are the smallest non-aggregate stone fruits, and they are also one of the earliest to be harvested in the late spring. Cherries are typically red or black and can have a range of flavors from sweet to sour. Sweet cherries are often eaten fresh while sour cherries tend to be ideal for pies and other baked goods.
- Coconut: Most people are surprised to learn that coconuts are considered a stone fruit since they look so different and are often grown in different climates. Where most stone fruit has a thin skin, the exocarp of a coconut is the smooth, green outer surface and the mesocarp is the fibrous husk just underneath. The actual endocarp “pit” is the hard, woody layer inside that ultimately surrounds the familiar white flesh.
- Mangoes: The mango is a tropical fruit that has become much more popular in the United States in recent years, with a tangy and sweet flavor that works well in smoothies, kombuchas, hard seltzers, and many other kinds of foods and beverages. The mango is a clingstone fruit with a pit that is larger, flatter, and more irregularly shaped than other stone fruits.
- Lychees: The lychee fruit comes from a type of tree that is native to South China, which is part of why it isn’t as commonly used in the United States. The fruit has a pinkish outer rind with a rough texture that surrounds pale, translucent flesh and a brown pit. Both the rind and pit are inedible, but the fleshy part has a taste similar to a strawberry that can be used in desserts, cocktails, and savory Southeast Asian dishes.
- Hybrid: Over the years, botanists have taken various species in the Prunus genus and combined them to make a series of hybrid stone fruits. Examples include pluots, plumcots, apriums, and apriplums. These weirdly named fruits have been specifically bred and cultivated to bring together different aspects of other stone fruits in a hybrid.
- Aggregates: Raspberries, blackberries, and mulberries are all examples of aggregate stone fruits that come as a cluster of individual stone fruits. Unlike other stone fruits, though, the small pits are small and totally edible. As berries, aggregate stone fruits are useful for jams, jellies, desserts, and as beverage flavoring.
Juices and Concentrates from FruitSmart
Stone fruits are a classic summer treat that are delicious when eaten raw or as an ingredient in a beverage, dessert, or a variety of other applications. FruitSmart is a leading provider of high quality juices, concentrates, essences, and purees. Yet beyond providing excellent products, we are passionate about offering innovative solutions for any need. Please contact us today to learn more about our ingredients and how FruitSmart can partner with you to deliver delicious new products to your customers.