How to Tell When a Nectarine is Ripe

In this brief article, we will be discussing how to tell when a nectarine is ripe, and will also give you certain tips on how to buy the best nectarines and ripen them at home.

How to Tell When a Nectarine is Ripe?

Nectarine is a climacteric fruit and exhibits increased ethylene production, respiration rate, changes in fruit texture, color, aroma, and other biochemical and physiological attributes during fruit ripening. It has a very limited storage life (2 to 5 weeks) depending upon the cultivar (1).

Here are some of the main characteristics that help distinguish a ripe nectarine.

  1. Touch

A ripe nectarine feels a little soft. A very hard nectarine is not ripe yet. Also, the skin of a ripe nectarine will sink slightly with a gentle squeeze. 

However, don’t use too much force to push the fruit.

  1. Aroma

Ripening nectarines are more fragrant and fruity than unripe fruits.

  1. Color 

The color of nectarines can be yellow to dark orange with a few light scattered spots or freckles.

A ripe nectarine will show the following signs:

  • the skin will start to become less green and more yellowish-orange with a hint of red.
  • the skin will show wrinkling and turn softer, similar to an overripe peach.
  1. Sugar Content

As nectarine ripen, their sugar content will increase, making them sweeter than they were before.

This is because nectarines contain malic acid, one of the main components of sour or tart fruit flavor. When nectarines ripen, sugar content increases and malic acid decreases, making them less sour.

In short, when looking for a nectarine that is ripe and juicy, always select one that:

  • has a fruity aroma
  • doesn’t have a greenish tinge
  • Tastes more sweet and less sour
  • gives in to slight touch, and
  • has ‘sugar spots’ – small pale speckles indicative of intense sweetness

What is the Best Time to Eat a Nectarine? 

High-quality peaches for fresh market consumption should be large, from a diameter of 56–60 mm to 80–89 mm, regular shaped, well red color and firm enough to withstand handling (2).

Fully-ripened nectarines remain at their peak for only one to two days, so it’s best to eat them almost immediately. 

Remember that the inner flesh of a nectarine sitting on the counter at room temperature ripens for about two to three days, and can stay edible for up to seven days when refrigerated after peeling.

Can You Eat an Unripe Nectarine?

Generally, it is safe to eat an unripe nectarine. In fact, the unripe fruit contains high quantities of an enzyme called papain, which reduces symptoms of many gastric disorders. 

There are many other bioactive compounds in unripe fruits with high value added, which also have antioxidant activity, free radical-scavenging activity, and many other useful functions. Unripe fruits contain important organic acids, and it is possible to produce unripe fruit juices or powders as natural acidifier condiments. A study showed that the antioxidant activity of polyphenol extracts from unripe stone fruits such as apricot, cherry, peach, plum, and nectarine, as well as from unripe grape fruits, was higher than from ripe fruits. This suggests that many unripe fruits are potential antioxidants (3).

How to Choose the Best Nectarine at the Supermarket?

The nectarines available in the supermarket are generally picked when they are a little underripe. This is to compensate for the time taken to travel from farms to the produce section. Nectarines have to be harvested when mature, but not ripe, to permit long-distance transport with minimal injuries. This stage does not necessarily imply that the product meets the maturity requirements for immediate use. Harvesting at the proper stage of maturity is essential for the maintenance of fruit quality after harvest. Stone fruits picked at the ‘well-mature stage’ normally produce sufficient ethylene to initiate ripening to assure consumer satisfaction (2).

Here are a few tips and tricks to choose the best nectarines when shopping at the produce section:

  • Nectarines are climacteric – they continue ripening even after they’ve been picked. So, if you pick the ones that are half-ripe, you’ll have a few days to eat them before they go bad.
  • Buy nectarines that smell fragrant but are still somewhat firm.
  • If there is a slight green tinge below their distinctive blush, particularly at the stem end, the nectarine generally needs more time to ripen.
  • Nectarines are generally harder when underripe and tend to become extremely soft when overripe. However, an ideally ripe nectarine remains firm but gives slightly to the touch when squeezed gently. 
  • Avoid extremely soft or pulpy nectarines since this indicates bruising. 
  • Half-ripen nectarines produce a limited smell, but fully ripe fruits exude a richly fragrant and fruity aroma. 
  • Once you’ve brought them home, store the nectarines in a paper bag at room temperature. The bag allows some air to circulate in the bag, but more importantly traps the ethylene gas released by the fruit which speeds the ripening process.
  • You can also add a banana or apple to the paper bag, since they also exude natural gasses that promote ripening.

How to Properly Store Nectarines

As mentioned above, in the case of mature but still not totally ripe fruit, you can store nectarines in a paper bag, a fruit-ripening wrap, or even a plain towel for about a week. Even if the nectarine is not ripe, the cold storage will prolongate the shelf life of the fruit, while it matures (1).

Make sure to check on the nectarines every 24 hours to avoid overripening them.  

If you want to store them for longer, it is best to peel them and refrigerate the pulp. 

Conclusion 

In this brief article, we answered how to tell when a nectarine is ripe, and gave you certain tips on how to buy the best nectarines and ripen them at home.

If you have any comments or questions, please let us know. 

References:

  1. Ahmed, Muhammad J., Zora Singh, and Ahmad S. Khan. Postharvest Aloe vera gel‐coating modulates fruit ripening and quality of ‘Arctic Snow’nectarine kept in ambient and cold storage. Int j food sci technol, 2009, 44, 1024-1033.
  2. Lavilla, T., et al. Multivariate analysis of maturity stages, including quality and aroma, in ‘Royal Glory’peaches and ‘Big Top’nectarines. J Sci Food Agri, 2002, 82, 1842-1849.
  3. Wei, Mengyuan, et al. Comprehensive utilization of thinned unripe fruits from horticultural crops. Foods, 2021, 10, 2043.

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Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.