Pears 101 – The Basics
Pears are members of the rose family (Rosaceae) family of plants. Other members of this plant family include apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, and almonds. The varieties of pears that are commonly found in American grocery stores all belong to the category known as European Pears (Pyrus communis). They typically have rounded bodies with tapering necks of varying lengths. While we’re most familiar with green pears, the different types come in an array of colors ranging from yellow/gold, to red, green, and brown. To expand information about pears, I have included a section in this article about the types of pears commonly found in American grocery stores.
There are other types of pears that are different, yet related to the European pears. One such pear is the “pear apple.” They are round and look like apples in their shape, but their skin looks like that of a pear. They are not a cross between a pear and an apple. They are a different category of pear broadly referred to as the Asian pear. In this same category are Chinese pears, Japanese pears, Korean pears, and Siberian/Manchurian pears. When the different categories are combined, people enjoy over 3,000 varieties of pears worldwide!
Historians believe that both European and Asian pears evolved separately roughly 3,000 years ago. In the 1500s, European settlers brought the beloved fruit with them to North America. Today, pears are grown mostly on the west coast of the United States, but most of the pears we eat are imported from Argentina, Chile, China, South Korea and New Zealand. Worldwide, China is the largest producer of pears.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Nutritionally, pears supply noteworthy amounts of dietary fiber, copper, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K, along with lesser amounts of other vitamins and minerals. Beyond that, they are a concentrated source of many phenolic compounds and carotenoids that offer a number of health benefits.
Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease. Pears may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Ample dietary fiber has long been established as a means of reducing our risk for these two leading diseases in America. Pears are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which play important roles in maintaining health and reducing the risk of heart disease. The flavonoids found in pears are known to help improve insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes.
Cancer Risk. The fiber in pears has been shown to bind to secondary bile acids in the intestinal tract, removing them from the body, and thereby lowering our risk for colorectal cancer, along with other intestinal problems.
Pears have also been shown to lower the risk of stomach cancer. Specific phytonutrients (a variety of cinnamic acids) in pears and mangos were studied in Mexico City, and were found to lower the risk of stomach cancer. Researchers found that two servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables per day were needed to achieve this benefit.
Esophageal cancer risk was also found to be lowered by ingestion of pears in a very large-scale study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the American Association of Retired Persons. Other foods belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae) were also found to lower the risk of esophageal cancer, including apples, plums, and strawberries.
Hypoallergenic. Pears are among the foods that are considered to be hypoallergenic and easy to digest. Pear puree is considered to be one of the safe foods to introduce to weaning infants since they are very easy to digest and are very hypoallergenic. They are also recommended for older individuals who must follow a low-allergenic food plan.
How to Select Pears
Pears are very perishable once they are ripe, so most of the pears found in grocery stores are unripe. Look for pears that are firm, but not rock hard. They should have smooth skin with no bruises or decay. Avoid those with soft spots or puncture wounds. The skin may not be uniform in color, since different varieties of pears have some speckling on them.
If you are looking for a ripe pear and are not sure if it is ripe, hold it in your hand and gently press near the stem with your thumb. If it yields to slight pressure, the pear is ripe and ready to be eaten. If it feels extremely soft, the pear is overripe. If you purchase overripe pears, it is best to reserve them for cooking, for food safety reasons.
How to Store Pears
Most pears will need to be ripened after bringing them home. Allow them to sit at room temperature for a few days, away from a heat source or sunlight. Use the test for ripeness described in the above section. Once they are ripe, store them in the refrigerator to slow down the ripening process. Use them within a few days.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Pears
* Try a pear and pineapple green smoothie! Blend a pear with a small can of pineapple chunks (with the juice) (or 1-1/2 c fresh pineapple chunks), a large handful of fresh spinach, 10 to 12 sprigs of cilantro, and 1 cup coconut water or coconut milk. Blend until smooth and enjoy!
* The licorice flavor of fennel complements the sweetness of pears, so try adding both to your favorite fruit or green salad
* For breakfast, cook your favorite oats, then top them with a diced pear, a little maple syrup (if desired), a little cinnamon or allspice, chopped pecans, and some milk of choice. Delish!
* It’s best to ripen pears at room temperature. Only place them in the refrigerator when they are ripe and to slow further ripening until you’re ready to eat them. Once pears are ripe, use them within 5 days.
* To test a pear for ripeness, apply gentle pressure with your thumb at the top of the neck near the stem. When it yields to slight pressure, the pear is ripe.
* There are a number of ways to slow down the browning of fruit, like apples and pears. The researchers at https://seriouseats.com tested different methods and found the best method overall. Soak cut pears in a solution of ½ teaspoon kosher salt per one cup of cold water. Stir to completely dissolve the salt in the water, then add the fruit pieces. Be sure they are completely submerged. Allow the fruit to soak for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry. They tested rinsing the fruit slices immediately after being soaked, after two hours at room temperature, and not at all. Without rinsing, some taste testers detected a minor salt flavor while others did not. Even the slices that were briefly rinsed in plain water immediately after soaking did not readily brown after two hours of sitting open at room temperature. So, the fruit may be rinsed immediately or later, if desired. Impressive!
* If you find you have too many ripe pears and can’t eat them fast enough, blend them into smoothies, soups, sauces, or purees, or poach them. Cooked pears, such as poached pears, pear sauce, or puree may be frozen.
* To speed up the ripening of pears, place them (at room temperature) near other fruits that release ethylene gas. Such fruit includes bananas, apples, and avocados. The gas will speed the ripening of your pears.
* Pears are very versatile. Besides being served raw in almost anything, pears can be baked, poached, sautéed, roasted and grilled. They can be used as an ingredient in baked goods, and can be made into preserves, jams and chutneys. Anything that can be done with an apple can be done with a pear.
* Make a healthy salad with kale, spinach, leeks, pears and walnuts. Top with your favorite dressing.
* Add chopped pears, ginger, and honey to your favorite cooked grain (such as millet, oats, or quinoa) for a breakfast treat.
* Try pears poached in apple juice.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Pears
Allspice, anise seeds, cardamom, chicory, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, juniper berries, mint, nutmeg, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, salt, star anise, tarragon, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Pears
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beef, chestnuts, chicken, duck, nuts (esp. almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts), pork, turkey
Vegetables: Arugula, cabbage (red, white), celery, chives, endive, fennel, ginger, greens (bitter, salad), lettuces, onions (esp. red), parsnips, radicchio, rhubarb, shallots, spinach, squash (winter, esp. butternut), watercress
Fruits: Apples (including apple cider, apple juice), bananas, blackberries, cherries (dried, fresh), citrus fruits, cranberries, currants, dates, dried fruits, figs, grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, passion fruit, persimmons, pineapple, plums (dried), pomegranates, quinces, raisins, raspberries
Grains and Grain Products: Gingerbread, oats, oatmeal, phyllo dough
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cashew cream, cheese (esp. blue, brie, feta, goat, Parmesan, ricotta), cream, crème fraiche, ice cream, mascarpone, sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Agave nectar, bourbon, brandy, caramel, chocolate, honey, maple syrup, molasses, oil (esp. grapeseed, olive), sugar (esp. brown), vanilla, vinegar, wine (red or white, dry or sweet)
Pears have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (cakes, pies, tarts), desserts (i.e., crisps, crumbles, ice creams, sorbets, tarts), pancakes, pizzas, poached pears, rémoulade, salads (i.e., fruit, green, spinach), sauces (dessert), smoothies, soups, stews (esp. with dried pears), trail mixes (dried pears)
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Pears
Add pears to any of the following combinations…
Agave nectar + lemon + strawberries
Allspice + black pepper + maple syrup + red wine
Almonds + figs
Arugula + balsamic vinegar + blue cheese + fennel + olive oil
Balsamic vinegar + cinnamon + maple syrup
Blue cheese + fennel
Caramel + peanuts
Cheese (i.e., blue, goat, Parmesan)+ nuts (i.e., hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts)
Cherries + ginger
Cinnamon + cranberries + oats
Cranberries + hazelnuts
Cranberries + orange
Cranberries + pecans + vanilla
Cream + molasses
Fennel + fennel seeds + ginger
Feta cheese + red onions + salad greens
Ginger + orange
Ginger + pecans
Goat cheese + hazelnuts
Gorgonzola cheese + pecans + spinach
Hazelnuts + raspberries
Honey + maple syrup + orange + Parmesan cheese
About Different Types of Pears
There are thousands of varieties of pears globally. In the United States, there are relatively few that are commonly found in grocery stores. The following list covers most of them.
Bartlett Pears. These are the best-known pear in the United States. They are the variety that is usually used in canning. They are yellow-green and speckled, and are sometimes called Williams pears.
Bosc Pears. Bosc pears are a cinnamon brown pear with long tapered necks. They have a honey-like, complex flavor.
Comice Pears. Comice (pronounced ko-MEESE) pears are sometimes known as “Christmas pears” because they are often included in gift baskets and boxes, and are featured in grocery store produce sections during the Christmas season. They are usually available from September through February. Comice pears have a round body with a very short neck. They are green, sometimes with a red blush in parts of the skin. Some new strains are entirely red. These pears are fragile and bruise easily. They are very sweet, soft, and juicy, and pair well with cheese, especially soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and any blue cheese.
Concorde Pears. These pears are tall with a round bottom and a long, tapering neck. The flesh is sweet, dense, firm and juicy. As they ripen, they become slightly softer and the flavor mellows. This is a relatively new variety of pear that has a short season from fall into December, when they are sold out. Their availability will extend as the crop increases.
Forelle Pears (aka Green d’ Anjou Pears). Forelle pears are commonly referred to by their French name, “d’ Anjou.” They are green with red speckles. They are bell shaped with a relatively short neck. Their flesh is moist and crisp. It is a small-sized pear that yellows as it ripens. Anjou pears are the second most recognizable, and most abundant pear variety in the United States.
Red Anjou Pears. These pears are very much like their green counterpart, except that they have a rich, reddish maroon color. They are usually available from September or October into the summer months. Their flavor is like their green counterparts, but cutting them in a salad or another food with their pretty red peel adds wonderful eye-appeal to any dish. They are often simply labeled as red pears in grocery stores.
Red Bartlett Pears. Red Bartlett pears are very much like their green counterparts, except for their bright red skin. Red Bartlett pears are delicious any way they come. When slightly underripe, they are crunchy and tart. When fully ripened, they are juicy and super sweet. They are usually found in grocery stores from September through December. They are often simply labeled as red pears in grocery stores.
Seckel Pears. Seckel pears are small with a chubby bottom and small neck. Their skin is usually olive green, often with a dark maroon blush. They are in season from September through February. Since they are small, they are often overlooked by shoppers. But Seckel pears make wonderful snacks or lunch box treats, especially for children. They also make lovely plate garnishes, and may even be canned whole.
Starkrimson Pears. Starkrimson pears are another variety of beautiful red pears. They have a narrower neck than Red Anjou pears. They are very juicy, mild, and sweet pears when ripe. They are perfect for snacking or dicing into assorted dishes and salads to show off their beautifully colored skin. Like their red cousins, Starkrimson pears are usually marketed as red pears in grocery stores. They are usually available August through November.
Honey Glazed Pork Chops with Pear Chutney and Pear Fennel Salad https://producemadesimple.ca/honey-glazed-pork-chops-with-pear-chutney-pear-fennel-salad/
Herb and Pear Glazed Roast Turkey with Fig and Goat Cheese Stuffing https://producemadesimple.ca/herb-and-pear-glazed-roast-turkey-with-fig-and-goat-cheese-stuffing/
Pear and Parsnip Soup https://producemadesimple.ca/ontario-pear-parsnip-soup/
Pear and Cranberry Salsa https://producemadesimple.ca/ontario-pear-cranberry-salsa/
Caramel Dipped Pears https://producemadesimple.ca/caramel-dipped-pears/
Veggie Skillet (with Pears) https://usapears.org/recipe/veggie-skillet/
Pear and Walnut Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Arugula and Balsamic Glaze https://usapears.org/recipe/pear-and-walnut-flatbread-with-gorgonzola-arugula-and-balsamic-glaze/
Pear and Lentil Stir-Fry https://usapears.org/recipe/pear-lentil-stir-fry/
20 Perfect-for-Fall Pear Recipes You’ll Want to Eat All Year Round https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/popular-ingredients/pear-recipes?slide=8e9a23dc-ea24-4e09-bf73-c9bc9763dc9a#8e9a23dc-ea24-4e09-bf73-c9bc9763dc9a
Arugula and Pear Salad with Maple Vinaigrette https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/arugula-pear-salad-maple-vinaigrette
55 Delicious Pear Recipes You’ll Make Again and Again https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/pear-recipes/
15 Perfect Pear Desserts That’ll Make It Your New Favorite Fruit https://www.delish.com/cooking/g1175/perfect-pear-desserts/
28 Pear Recipes for Breakfast, Dinner, Dessert and More https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/16-pear-recipes-fall-dinner-dessert
The 17 Best Pear Recipes for Any Meal https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-pear-recipes-4177001
Red Bartlett, Sweet Corn, and Strawberry Salad https://usapears.org/recipe/red-bartlett-sweet-corn-and-strawberry-salad/
Brown Sugar Pear Butter https://usapears.org/recipe/brown-sugar-pear-butter/
Holiday Cranberry Relish http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=324
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.