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The Perfect Summer Peach Wasn't Always So Rosy

The Perfect Summer Peach Wasn't Always So Rosy

The modern peach is a work of art: rosy, fuzzy, fragrant, fragile — and, of course, impossibly sweet and juicy. But that enchanting fruit is the product of centuries of painstaking breeding that have transformed it from its humble origins. The peach of the past was much smaller, acidic and a greenish-cream color.

Where the original, wild peach came from has been a mystery, but a new clue brings us closer than ever to its origin.

A recent archaeological excavation of peach pits points to the lower Yangtze River Valley in southern China as one of the first places the peach was domesticated, a study published in early September in PLOS ONE reveals. About 7,500 years ago, farmers there began cultivating a much smaller, whiter peach than we know today. Radiocarbon dating of the pits and their location indicates that these farmers were pretty savvy about grafting and fruit reproduction. But the location of the agricultural evidence is not where scientists expected it to be.

"It's such a kind of a monkey wrench in the works," Gary Crawford, paleoethnobotanist at the University of Toronto, Mississauga and lead author of the study, tells The Salt, "Everybody's been saying western China or northern China, but now we're saying the data are coming from the lower Yangtze Valley."

Crawford's research examined Chinese peach pits, including their length, width and suture diameter, in addition to radiocarbon dating to conclude that the cultivation of peaches in China occurred much earlier than previously thought. Their findings indicate the domestication process took at least 3,000 years, with the most similar to modern peach stones found in the Liangzhu culture about 5,000 years ago and the least similar in the lower Yangtze Valley.