While the sun is beginning to set on summer, the sweetness of the season doesn’t have to. In fact, some of your favorite summer staples, such as peaches, plums, and cherries, are still in their prime.1 These are all stone fruits. Also known as drupes, stone fruit is a generic term that describes fruits that have edible flesh and skin surrounding a relatively large, hard “stone” that shields and protects the seed inside.2–4 There are thousands of varieties of stone fruits, which are matched by the numerous and diverse ways to prepare them.3,5–7 Whether you’re stewing, drying, juicing, grilling, sautéing, making jam, or eating them raw, stone fruits can make a simple summer dish turn succulent. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Stone Fruit?
The name “stone fruit” is more of a culinary term than a botanical one.5 All together, there are three layers. At the center is the endocarp. This is the tough, woody pit—also known as the stone—that surrounds the single large seed at the fruit’s core. The pit supports the fruit as it hangs off the tree branch by its stem, allowing nutrients to flow from the tree to the growing fruit.4–7 Outside of the endocarp is the mesocarp, which is the fleshy, juicy, pulpy, edible part.8 Finally, the epicarp is the soft outer skin, which can be velvety soft or smooth and shiny, depending on the type of fruit.9
Notably, there are stone fruits that have both a soft flesh and endocarp—berries! These pits are usually edible and swallowed whole. Botanically speaking, a berry is a fleshy fruit with multiple seeds that comes “from a single ovary of an individual flower.”10,11 In addition to blueberries and cranberries, grapes and melons are in this fruit group. While their names imply otherwise, mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries are not berries. They are a type of stone fruit called a drupelet. This term refers to stone fruits that contain a cluster of tiny drupes, each of which contains a single seed.7,9,10 Put simply, berries are a fleshy fruit with many seeds inside while stone fruits have a hard pit inside that contains a single seed.12
Stone Fruit Varieties
There are thousands of varieties of stone fruits, with numerous hybrids (e.g., plumcots, apriums, pluots) and differing appearances.3 Most stone fruits have a sweet flavor, rich color, and pack a mighty punch when it comes to nutrition. Stone fruits in general are especially high in antioxidants and other trace nutrients, such as copper.10,12,14 Here is a brief list of common stone fruits and their health benefits.
Peaches. When you think of stone fruits, peaches may be the first one that comes to mind. Like many other drupes, this summertime icon is low in calories and high in nutrients, including manganese, niacin, and vitamins E and K.15 Peaches are also known for their high levels of carotenoids, which are plant pigments that offer protection against many chronic diseases.13,15 Make sure you take full advantage of this fruit’s health benefits by eating the skin—research shows that it can contain up to 27 times more antioxidants than its pulp!13,16
Apricots. Apricots are similar to peaches in appearance and health benefits. Apricots are high in vitamins E and K and rich in beta carotene, a type of carotenoid the body converts into vitamin A.17 Apricots can also improve digestion. A 2015 study of more than 1,300 adults with acid reflux showed that those who ate Japanese apricots daily experienced improved digestion and significantly fewer heartburn symptoms.18
Plums. This jewel-toned stone fruit high is in phenolic compounds, a type of anti-inflammatory antioxidant that protects the body against free radicals.8,14 This can reduce this risk of certain chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions.19 Plums can also be dried to form prunes, which concentrates the nutrients found in their fresh form.20 Prunes, like apricots, can help improve digestion. Resounding research shows that their high fiber content can alleviate constipation.21
Cherries. Cherries come in two varieties: sweet and tart.3,5 Both are high in magnesium, manganese, potassium, and vitamins B6 and K.5,13,22 The antioxidants found in this stone fruit provide many of the same benefits as those found in other drupes. Cherries are also a rich source of melatonin, a hormone naturally released in the body that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.22 While more studies are needed to support this hypothesis, preliminary research suggests that cherry juice may improve sleep in adults with insomnia.23
Mangoes. While many drupes are round with a spherical pit, others, like mangoes, are more pear-shaped and have a wider, flat stone in the middle. This fruit is known for its high content of vitamin C, which aids the immune system, helps the body absorb iron, and promotes cell growth and repair.24 Just one cup of fresh mango provides nearly 67 percent of vitamin C’s recommended daily value.25 Folate, a type of B vitamin that supports fetal growth and development, is also found in mangoes.
Olives. Unlike other drupes, olives are high in healthy fats and notably change in color as the fruit ripens. Olives begin as light green in color, and as they ripen, this color transitions to light brown to red to purple, and finally to dark black. The darker the olive, the riper it was when it was harvested.26,27 Their color and maturation is indicative of their nutritional content. For example, olives are a rich source of healthy fats such as oleic acid, which has been linked to decreased inflammation and a reduced risk of heart disease.26–28 However, this stone fruit’s fat content increases as the olive ripens and its color darkens.
Choosing and Storing Stone Fruits
Selecting and storing stone fruits properly can be tricky because there is such a wide variety of them. You can start the selection process by looking at your calendar. Many drupes, including nectarines, plums, cherries, and stone fruit berries, are in season from June until September.1,3,5,7 The ripeness of others, such as olives, dates, and almonds, peak in the fall and winter months. Depending on where they are grown, there are even outliers, like coconuts, that can be harvested year-round.29
The feel, color, and scent of stone fruits can help determine their ripeness. The skin on peaches, nectarines, apricots, and their hybrids should be smooth, plump, and mostly firm.3,6,7,30 Slight softness around the stem can be a sign of ripeness. Wrinkles or mushy dark spots can signify older fruit that should be thrown away or consumed immediately. Some stone fruits, especially peaches, will have a sweet floral scent when they are ripe. Sweet cherries will be firm, while tart cherries will be slightly soft.3
If you purchase stone fruits before they are ready to be eaten, storing them properly is key. Other than cherries, most stone fruits can be left at room temperature.3,30 One way to store them is leaving them unwashed and stem-side down in a single-layer on the counter at room temperature until they are fully ripe, which can take up to three days.3,30 Only refrigerate them after they have fully ripened. Exposing stone fruits to cold temperatures too early can cause them to take on a grainy texture and have a chalky taste. Once they are ripe, stone fruit will maintain good texture and taste for 3 to 5 days in a breathable bag or container in the fridge, especially if they are in a crisper drawer.30 Prior to consuming a stone fruit that has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature for a fresher flavor.
Nothing says summer like stone fruits. These seasonal staples are known for their tough woody pits in the center that are surrounded by a fleshy pulp and thin skin. Drupes come in many varieties and flavors, ranging from sweet to sour to bitter. Their nutrient profile is also impressive. They contain high concentrations of antioxidants, which can prevent chronic diseases, and trace and essential vitamins and minerals. While timing is key in selecting and storing stone fruits, their texture, color, and scent can provide signs of peak ripeness. From salads to desserts, stone fruits make great companions to many dishes while being a colorful way to light up your plate this summer.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Seasonal produce guide: what’s in season now? United States Department of Agriculture website. https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- University of Florida – Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website. Stone fruit. Updated 6 Jul 2022. https://hos.ifas.ufl.edu/stonefruit/. Accessed 28 Jul 2022.
- Hutcherson A. A guide to stone fruit: how to choose, ripen, store and cook with it. 9 Jul 2021. Washington Post website. https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2021/07/09/stone-fruit-guide-peaches-plums-nectarines/. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- Famiani F, Bonghi C, Chen ZH, et al. Stone fruits: growth and nitrogen and organic acid metabolism in the fruits and seeds – a review. Front Plant Sci. 2020;11:572601.
- Neville K. Spectacular stone fruits. 28 Apr 2015. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – Food & Nutrition Magazine website. https://foodandnutrition.org/may-june-2015/spectacular-stone-fruits/. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- Bittman M. A dozen ways to serve stone fruit. 21 Jun 2012. New York Times website. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/magazine/a-dozen-ways-to-serve-stone-fruit.html. Accessed 28 Jul 2022.
- Firkser R. Betcha didn’t know all of these were stone fruits. 1 Jun 2021. Food52 website. https://food52.com/blog/26240-what-is-a-stone-fruit. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- Lara MV, Bonghi C, Famiani F, et al. Stone fruit as biofactories of phytochemicals with potential roles in human nutrition and health. Front Plant Sci. 2020;11:562252.
- Fincher M. What is stone fruit? 14 common types of stone fruit. 9 Sep 2020. AllRecipes website. https://www.allrecipes.com/article/what-is-stone-fruit/. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- Olas B. Berry phenolic antioxidants – implications for human health? Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:78.
- Berry. Encyclopaedia Britannica website. https://www.britannica.com/science/achene. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- Ulaszewska M, Vázquez-Manjarrez N, Garcia-Aloy M, et al. Food intake biomarkers for apple, pear, and stone fruit. Genes Nutr. 2018;13:29.
- Kubala J. 6 delicious and healthy stone fruits. Healthline website. Updated 21 May 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/stone-fruit-list. Accessed 26 Jul 2022.
- Redondo D, Arias E, Oria R, Venturini ME. Thinned stone fruits are a source of polyphenols and antioxidant compounds. J Sci Food Agric. 2017;97(3):902-910.
- Gasparotto J, Somensi N, Bortolin RC, et al. Effects of different products of peach (Prunus persica L. Batsch) from a variety developed in southern Brazil on oxidative stress and inflammatory parameters in vitro and ex vivo. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2014;55(2):110-119.
- Bohn T. Carotenoids, chronic disease prevention and dietary recommendations. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2017;87(3-4):121-130.
- Vardi N, Parlakpinar H, Ozturk F, et al. Potent protective effect of apricot and beta-carotene on methotrexate-induced intestinal oxidative damage in rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008;46(9):3015-3022.
- Maekita T, Kato J, Enomoto S, et al. Japanese apricot improves symptoms of gastrointestinal dysmotility associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(26):8170-8177
- Cory H, Passarelli S, Szeto J, et al. The role of polyphenols in human health and food systems: a mini-review. Front Nutr. 2018;5:87.
- Piga A, Del Caro A, Corda G. From plums to prunes: influence of drying parameters on polyphenols and antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem. 2003;51(12):3675-3681.
- Lever E, Cole J, Scott SM, et al. Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014;40(7):750-758.
- Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51(8):909-916.
- Losso JN, Finley JW, Karki N, et al. Pilot study of the tart cherry juice for the treatment of insomnia and investigation of mechanisms. Am J Ther. 2018;25(2):e194-e201.
- Raman R, Snyder C. 10 health benefits of mango. Updated 3 Nov 2021. Healthline website. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mango. Accessed 29 Jul 2022.
- Lebaka VR, Wee YJ, Ye W, Korivi M. Nutritional composition and bioactive compounds in three different parts of mango fruit. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(2):741.
- Howard H. A beginner’s guide to olives: 14 varieties worth seeking out. Updated 14 Jul 2022. Serious Eats website. https://www.seriouseats.com/guide-to-olive-varieties. Accessed 29 Jul 2022.
- Rocha J, Borges N, Pinho O. Table olives and health: a review. J Nutr Sci. 2020;9:e57.
- Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. Monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Lipids Health Dis. 2014;13:154.
- Haseena M, Kasturi Bai KV, Padmanabhan S. Post-harvest quality and shelf-life of tender coconut. J Food Sci Technol. 2010;47(6):686–689.
- Stone fruits. StopFoodWaste website. https://stopfoodwaste.org/tips/store/stone-fruits. Accessed 29 Jul 2022.