“It is not just food, it is our childhood.” On the other side of the world, tinned peaches are not only a kind of foods, but also a comfort given by parents when children are ill, a memory of someone’s childhood.

Tinned peaches are a special food in China, as a food, they even appear in certain pharmacies. This is closely related to the people from Northeast China scattered throughout the country. Northeasterners firmly believe that tinned peaches can cure all kinds of illnesses. They believe that no matter what ailment one has, eating tinned peaches will make them better.

This belief is unique to tinned peaches and carries the memories of Northeasterners’ childhood. Some tinned peach manufacturers even make explicit statements declaring that their product has no medicinal effects. However, more than its actual effectiveness, tinned peaches are primarily considered as ‘comfort food’. 

Liang Xiaosheng, a well-known Chinese author, is a Northeasterner. In one of his novels recalling his mother, he mentioned that during his impoverished youth, he saved up money meant for buying books to purchase a bottle of tinned fruit for his mother.

It can be seen how precious the tinned food was in Northeast China at that time. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when compared to the income of ordinary families, tinned goods still held significant value. However, they have become much more affordable today.

In contrast to the southern regions of China, which produce an abundance of fresh fruits, it was not easy for people from the Northeast to have fresh fruits at any time during an era when logistics and warehousing technologies were less developed.

The variety of fruits produced was limited to just a few types, such as apples, pears, and peaches. The more scarce they were, the more they were yearned for. Especially during the long winter, the side effects of heaters and fire stoves used for warmth included dryness.

At such times, people longed for refreshing and sweet foods. Homemade frozen pears became a source of comfort during the winter, but once the season passed, they could no longer be enjoyed. This led to the creation of tinned fruits, which were not subject to seasonal limitations. However, for the people of that time, it would have been considered wasteful and extravagant to have tinned fruits like frozen pears.

As a result, people would only have tinned fruits during the peak cold and flu season, when they had poor appetite, impaired taste buds, and needed to replenish fluids, sugars, and vitamins. At that point, tinned fruits served not only as a source of comfort but also provided some degree of relief from discomfort. Thus, the tradition of having tinned fruits when feeling unwell became ingrained in the culture of the Northeasterners.

Dino Liu, a northeasterner said: “In the Northeast, it seems like there’s nothing that tinned peaches can’t solve. When my grandmother was sick, everyone who came to visit her will bring tinned peaches. We even had to eat them on New Year’s Eve. I remember one New Year’s Eve, I ran to three different stores just to buy a can of peaches.”

In fact, in the 1980s and 1990s, there were more types of tinned fruits sold in Northeast China besides tinned peaches. Common ones included tinned oranges, hawthorns, and pears. However, tinned peaches gained popularity because their taste was rarely disliked, thanks to their pure sweetness.

The ingredient list of tinned peaches prominently features peaches and sugar, with the processing reducing the sour tastes of the peaches while enhancing their sweetness. Both the peaches and the syrup are appealing.

Compared to other tinned fruits, which are either too sour or not sweet enough, children with sensitive taste buds naturally prefer sweeter options. After all, sugar stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Another advantage of tinned peaches is their soft but mixed with a crisp texture, making them easy to chew. Additionally, they have a beautiful colour and a round, half-peach shape, which is visually appetising.

Yellow peaches are not only delicious but also rich in vitamins, fibre, calcium, zinc, and other trace elements compared to other fruits. Although the canning process may cause some loss of nutrients, tinned peaches still contain certain nutritional value. Due to the high-temperature sterilisation process used for tinned peaches, they are one of the foods with the least amount of preservatives.

Peach pie

Apart from eating them directly, tinned peaches can be diced and mixed with yoghurt. They can also be used in baking desserts, such as making fruit pies or cakes. Since tinned peaches already have a sweet flavour, they do not require additional seasoning, making them very convenient for baking. 

Dino said: “Nowadays, life is getting better, and we can enjoy fresh fruits all year round. However, if I catch a cold during winter, I still crave tinned peaches. It has become a habit, a taste of childhood, and it gives me a feeling of being taken care of like a child even when I’m sick.”