Peaches in Chinese culture symbolize happiness, longevity and love. Beyond that, they are just plain good eating every summer.
The shoutao (寿桃), or birthday peach, is often served at traditional banquets to celebrate longevity. The steamed buns are shaped and colored like peaches and often filled red bean paste.
Tou tao bao li (投桃报李) is a Chinese idiom from classic poetry that means “the gift of a peach will be reciprocated by the gift of a plum.”
Every year during peach blossom season, beverages and desserts are made from the petals and promoted as elixirs of love.
The majority of the more than 1,000 varieties of peaches around the world originated in China, where cultivation of the fruit began more than 6,000 years ago.
Peaches were introduced into Europe through Persia by 300 BC.
Honey peaches (水蜜桃) are the most common variety in China. Harvested between July and September, they are soft, succulent and very popular.
Some of the most prized honey peaches come from the Taihu Lake area in Jiangsu Province. The Yangshan honey peach from Wuxi is celebrated for its perfect shape, color, fragrance and delicate flesh. At 40 yuan (US$5.88) per kilogram, it is among the most expensive of local peaches.
Flat peaches (蟠桃) are also considered upmarket. Sometimes called immortal peaches (仙桃), they are mentioned in the famous Monkey King tale “Journey to the West.”
In chapter six, the Jade Emperor appoints the Monkey King a guardian of a flat peach garden. Hearing that the fruit bestows immortality, he stuffs himself with them. Later, fairies come to the garden to pick ripe peaches for the Queen Mother of the West’s peach banquet. They tell the Monkey King he isn’t invited to attend, so he gate-crashes the event.
Native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwestern China, flat peaches are now grown in the provinces of Shandong, Hebei, Shaanxi, Shanxi and Gansu.
Yellow peaches (黄桃) take their name from their rich color. They are considered a healthy food because of the anti-oxidants, dietary fiber and minerals they contain.
China has been cultivating yellow peaches for 3,000 years. Notable production areas include Wutai in Shandong Province, which calls itself the hometown of yellow peaches.
This variety is the most commonly used in canned peaches.
Downy peaches (毛桃) are smaller, less sweet wild peaches. They have more fuzz on their skins and are commonly grown in the provinces of Henan, Shandong, Sichuan and Yunnan. Though downy peaches are not as succulent and juicy as honey or yellow peaches, they are often favored for their somewhat crunchy texture.
Nectarines (油桃) are a cross between peaches and plums. Compared with downy peaches, they have brighter color, crispier flesh, smoother skin and less moisture. The early cultivars were introduced from Europe and North America.
Because nectarines won’t ripen once severed from their stems, it’s best to choose soft ones.
Other peach delights
Apart from just eating peaches as nature intended them, you can also use the fruit to make desserts like peach cobbler and refreshing summer drinks. They can also be added to salads or served as side dishes.
Some people like to sprinkle a bit of salt on peaches when eating them raw. Others prefer to sprinkle huamei fen, or preserved plum powder, on them to induce a more sour taste.
You can also mix small pieces of sweet peaches into yogurt and freeze them overnight to make simple popsicles.
For a quick drink with a summer vibe, throw pieces of peach into a bottle of water and let chill in the fridge overnight.
Peach oolong is a fruity tea blend that combines the sweetness and fragrance of peaches with aromatic oolong tea. It can be served hot or chilled.
Dried peach pits are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote blood circulation, curb inflammation and treat allergies.
Peeling a peach
The skin of a ripe peach will usually come off easily. But if it doesn’t, here’s a quick and surefire way to peel them:
1. Wash the fruit to remove all the surface peach fuzz.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil and prepare a bowl of cold water with ice cubes on the side.
3. Turn the stove off and immerse the peaches in the hot water for about 40 seconds.
4. Immediately move the peaches to the ice water and let sit for another half minute.
5. The skins will peel off easily.
Peach wine is a simple way to preserve the taste of fresh peach into the autumn and winter. Only three ingredients and a little patience are required to make the sweet wine.
One peach, quite hard in texture
500ml of white liquor or rice wine
1. Sterilize a container by scalding with boiling water and wipe dry.
2. Clean the peach by rubbing salt on the surface to remove the fuzz. Then rinse and wipe the surface dry.
3. Cut the peach in small chunks and remove the pit. Place in the container.
4. Pour white liquor or rice wine over the peach pieces and add rock sugar for sweeter taste.
5. If the content of alcohol used is low, it’s best to keep the wine in the fridge.