Succulent and sweet, it’s hard to resist biting into a round and juicy Japanese peach. There really is nothing like them in the world, and if you can get your hands on one of these beauties consider yourself blessed. Their sweetness comes at a price, but they are well worth it.
What is a Japanese peach?
Japanese peaches, or (桃) momo as you would say in Japanese, come in a few varieties. What do Japanese peaches taste like? Well, when you bite into their juicy white, pink flesh you will notice a robust peach flavor and an exceptional sweetness. Compared to the more common yellow peach varieties found in the US, Japanese peaches also tend to be less acidic and are quite a bit larger. While the yellow variety exists in Japan, the white peach is much more prevalent and popular.
Why are Japanese peaches so different?
Japanese peaches are grown in controlled conditions, covered with small paper bags while they are green to protect them and encourage them to grow pale and sweet. Harvesting them is also a delicate process, with the fruit being plucked from the peach trees by hand, as the peaches must be placed one by one next to each other as piling them up can bruise them. This makes them difficult to transport, causing them to be rather expensive even within Japan. These peaches are so desirable that there have been recent issues of thieves sneaking into orchards at night to steal the fruits and sell them online or at illegal roadside stands.
During the summer gift-giving season, chugen, these peaches become a prized gift to give to loved ones or important clients and can set you back $60~$80 a box, sometimes more. If you’re ever gifted a peach, take pride in knowing that someone really values you and wants to impress you! Peach season in Japan is usually from June-September, with different varieties ripening at different times.
Different types of Japanese peaches
Japanese peaches have come a long way when it comes to their sweetness and desirability. When they were first introduced to Japan from China centuries ago, peaches weren’t a very edible fruit - sour and hard. Though people did use them in medicinal and religious ways and even as decorations, the peach trees were admired much more for their large, brilliant pink blossoms which usually bloom in March, a couple of weeks before the cherry blossoms. Eventually, a sweeter variety was brought over during the Meiji period, and through careful farming and breeding the peaches we know today were born with new varieties popping up even today! White peaches are the most well-known, but yellow peaches are grown as well.
Okayama Shimizu White Peach
Okayama is a great place to start if you’re curious about Japanese peaches. The prefecture’s flower is the peach blossom, and it is where the legend of Momotaro (Peach Boy) takes place. Orchards full of white peach trees are even popular tourist destinations within the prefecture where you go and pick your own! While many peach varieties are grown in Okayama, the most famous is the Shimizu white peach with a light pink, almost white flesh, so juicy that when you bite into it, a waterfall of nectar dribbles down your face. These peaches are usually in season from late July until mid-August.
Yamanashi White Peaches - Hikawa Hakuho
While Okayama may be the peach prefecture, Yamanashi prefecture (just outside of Tokyo, near Mt. Fuji) actually produces the most peaches in Japan. With an abundance of sunlight and low precipitation levels compared to other parts of the country, Yamanashi has the ideal climate for peaches to thrive. A variety of peach types are grown there, but the most well-known is the Hikawa Hakuho. The skin is a bit redder than other white peach varieties, but its juicy flesh has a soft texture with few fibers. When you bite into one of these peaches it will delight your tastebuds with a refreshing sweetness.
Fukushima Akatsuki White Peaches
Like Yamanashi prefecture, Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan has an ideal sunny climate for growing these juicy gems. In fact, Fukushima is another one of the top producers of peaches in Japan. Fukushima is particularly known for its Akatsuki variety of white peaches. This variety is often more resilient than others. While still quite juicy, the flesh has lower water content and a firmer texture. This does not take away from the sweetness though! In fact, Fukushima is known to have produced the sweetest peach in the world at Furuyama fruit farm. It ended up being a 32 out of 40 on the Brix sweetness scale (usually peaches average about a 12)! The farmer who grows these peaches, Koji Furuyama, hopes to one day grow a peach that reaches 40 on the Brix scale.
Ougon Golden Peach
Though Japan is most known for its white peaches, there is a rare variety of Japanese peaches known as the golden peach, or Ougon, that is a descendent of a type of white peach despite its color. The skin is smooth and supple with a golden hue all around and golden flesh underneath that is melt-in-your-mouth soft when ripe. The flavor is described as that of a mango or apricot with a bit of acidity mixed in for a balanced flavor. They are grown in various prefectures, but the “kira kira” version grown in Nagano is said to be the best and rarest of all. This exceptional specimen only makes up 1% of peaches grown in Japan so if you get your hands on one of these, savor it!
How to eat Japanese peaches
If you are ever lucky enough to get your hands on one of these tasty treasures and are about to take your first bite, wait! In the US, we typically just dig right in when it comes to peaches, consuming skin and flesh before tossing away the pit, but Japanese peaches taste best with a bit more care and preparation. It is recommended to eat a fully ripe peach cooled, but not too cold - store your peaches at room temperature. Place the peach in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or in ice water for 30 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to eat them. Once the peach is chilled, slice it into wedges going lengthwise along the pit, then peel the skin. Now you can indulge in the luxurious, juicy sweetness!
Different ways to enjoy Japanese peaches
Though consuming a fresh peach is a worthwhile experience, there are other ways to enjoy them as well, even outside of peach season! One of the most refreshing ways is to sip on some delicious peach juice. You can find out where to buy Japanese peach juice outside of Japan. There are also many candies, jellies, cakes, jams, and even peach sake!
There are even some interesting recipes that incorporate peaches. A Yamanashi tourism website suggests pairing cut peaches with leafy greens and prosciutto with olive oil drizzled on top to make a unique salad. However you choose to enjoy Japanese peaches you won’t be disappointed.
Japanese peach desserts
While there are many ways to enjoy Japanese peaches one of the best ways is in the form of desserts. I’ll never forget when a coworker had given me a shingen momo (a peach-shaped steamed cake) as a souvenir from Yamanashi and it was almost too cute to eat! It looked like a real peach, but much smaller, with a doughy shell and white bean paste and peach jelly inside. Another favorite is white peach jelly from Okayama. It has an almost pudding-like texture and is made from the juice of white peaches grown that season so the taste is a bit different each year. Like the real thing, it’s expensive and best served chilled. If you want to try a variety of peach desserts, it might be worth checking out peach-themed sweets buffets or afternoon tea at hotels and cafes during the summer.
So why does everyone preach about the Japanese peach? It could be their unique sweetness and countless varieties, or the careful way they are grown, or maybe it’s the elegant way in which they are prepared to be eaten. Whatever it is, these are special fruits that are worth trying at least once.