Whether you’re wandering around in a farmers market or passing through a section of the grocery store, odds are you’ve seen the term “stone fruit” tossed around near the peaches and plums. You put your keen mind to the task and gather that the term is referencing a fruit (great start) with a, well, stone-like pit. Nailed it! But is there more to the concept? What is a stone fruit, exactly?
What is a stone fruit?
We’ve already gone over the obvious: Stone fruits are those with pits in the center. Officially, they’re fruits with a fleshy exterior known as the mesocarp (covered with a skin, or exocarp) that encases a stone or pit (the shell of which is a hardened endocarp with a seed inside). Also known as drupes, this category includes peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, apricots, and pluots.
Dates, mangoes, coconuts, green almonds, lychees, and olives are also technically classified as stone fruits, as are mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Their peak season is summer, roughly mid-May through mid- to late-August.
Wait, some berries are stone fruits?
Botanically speaking, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a berry is a fleshy fruit with multiple seeds, deriving “from a single ovary of an individual flower.” This category includes cranberries and blueberries, as well as bananas, grapes, tomatoes, and avocados, among others—but it does not include mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
While their name implies they are berries, mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries are actually aggregate fruits in the drupe or stone fruit family. Each mulberry, raspberry, or blackberry is a drupelet, or cluster of tiny drupes, each of which contains a single seed. (Strawberries are also aggregate fruit, but they’re achenes, not drupes—a story for another day.)
Can we break down clingstone vs. freestone fruit, too?
You’ll typically come across the terms “clingstone” and “freestone” with peaches. Unsurprisingly, they refer to whether the stone, or pit, stubbornly clings to the flesh or can be easily pulled out when the fruit is sliced open. According to the Peach Truck, clingstone peaches, which are in season from mid-May through early June, are great for eating but don’t hold up as well to freezing or canning; whereas freestones, available from mid-June to August, are great for anything: “You just slice the peach down the middle and pull it right off the pit.”
What’s this I hear about poisonous pits?
Technically, there is a dangerous chemical called amygdalin present in the seeds of stone fruits. According to the National Capital Poison Center, “poisoning can occur when the pit and seed are crushed or chewed before swallowing, releasing the amygdalin. Amygdalin is then converted by the body to cyanide.” Um, yikes?
Still, the cyanide factor has not stopped several chefs from playing around with the ingredient. Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser wrote about apricot pit ice cream for The New York Times in 2000, after trying it at Blue Hill in Manhattan. According to Shirley O. Corriher, a biochemist and the author of Cookwise, whom Hesser interviewed for her piece, “It would take a lot of kernels to harm an adult.” If you’re interested in trying the recipe, we’ve got you covered. (Of course, if stone-fruit-pit ice cream isn’t your speed, simply eat the fruit flesh.)
Playing Up Perfect Peaches
Bursting With Pleasant Plums
Highlighting Cheery Cherries
Full of Nifty Nectarines
Packed With Dreamy Dates
Starring Brilliant Blackberries & Radiant Raspberries
Featuring Magnificent Mangoes
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit’s Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book “Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day.” Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud’s cakes, she’s your girl. She tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.