Stone Fruits: Apricot, Cherry, Peach, and Plum

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Stone fruits are all species of the genus Prunus, members of the large rose family and relatives of the pome fruits. They owe their name to the stone-hard “shell” that surrounds a single large seed at their center. Though the 15 species of Prunus are found throughout the northern hemisphere, the important stone fruits mostly come from Asia. They do not store starch and so get no sweeter after harvest, though they do soften and develop aroma. Their internal tissues tend to become mealy or break down in prolonged cold storage, so fresh stone fruits are more seasonal than hardier apples and pears. Like some of the pome fruits, stone fruits accumulate the indigestible sugar alcohol sorbitol (a frequent ingredient in sugar-free gums and candies); they’re also rich in antioxidant phenolic compounds. The seeds of stone fruits are protected by a cyanide-generating enzyme that also produces the characteristic aroma of almond extract (almonds are seeds of Prunus amygdalus). They thus lend an almond character when included in sugar and alcohol preserves, and can replace “bitter almonds” in European pastries and sweets.