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The pear is the grandfather of the apple, its poor relation . . . which once, in our humid land, lived lonely and lordly, preserving the memory of its prestige by its haughty comportment.
— Francois Pierre de la Varenne (“Le Cuisinier françois” one of the most influential French cookbooks)

While not as appreciated as much as the apple the humble pear has its fair share of nutritional value.  A mildly-sweet fruit with a potent mix of fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants, no cholesterol and fat – and with only 100 calories makes it a healthy snack that rivals apples. The sheer amount of varieties lends pears a versatility that allow it to be in hot and cold dishes; in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert meals – no matter where pears they add their own unique flavor to the overall.

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What Are Pears?

A member of the rose (Rosaceae) family of plants that include roses (obviously) and fruits including apples, apricots, cherries, chokeberry, crabapples, loquats, peaches, plums, quinces, raspberries, serviceberries, and strawberries. Pears are either of the European and Asian types; the former are firm first and soften over time while the latter are intended to be eaten as soon as possible.

Pear apples have the shape of apples but are pears nonetheless. Belonging to a second type of pear known as an Asian pear this include the Chinese, Japanese, Korean (Pyrus pyrifolia), and Siberian/ Manchurian (Pyrus ussurensis) pears; these contribute to 3000+ types of pears enjoyed worldwide.

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China produces 15.5 million tons of the 21 million tons produced worldwide; the remaining are from Europe (2.7 million tons), Argentina and Chile (1.1 million tons), U.S (800 000 tons), and smaller amounts from other countries.

Pears have been used as traditional folk remedy in China for over 2000 years ailing inflammation, coughs, and even a hangover cure. At the very least everything but the latter has been backed up by studies on Korean pears.

The consensus of the origins of pears is that there were varieties in both Europe and Asia that developed at the same time. In ancient Europe they were consumed by the Greeks and Romans; proof of this comes in the form of a stewed spiced pear recipe in the ancient Roman cookbook, The Apicius. The first ancestors of the modern pear came from the French and Belgians developed in the 18th century.

In Australia the First Fleet in 1787 brought pear trees which accompanied the gold rush. If you’re lucky you can find some in the old mining towns. Many varieties of pear are available in Australia including the Packham (or Packham’s Triumph), Williams (or Bartlett), and the Buerre Bosc. The nashi or Chinese or Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) is a unique species brought in the 1850s by Chinese goldminers.

Pear trees are deciduous growing optimally in cool to mild climates. They grow up to 15m in a pyramid shape and should be in a sunny, sheltered location. With round to oval shiny, dark green leaves they have white fragrant flowers that turn into clusters of fruit when pollinated. Some pear trees can be used for ornamental purposes.

Pears are a relatively safe bet for farms as long as birds aren’t allowed and it improves food security via extending fresh food season. The trees are easy to grow, reliable, and they can handle soggy and frost conditions unlike others. They aren’t without their troubles as there is the Pear blister mite, a common fungal disease known as black spot, and the pear and cherry slug.

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How to Choose a Pear

When choosing pears look for those that are firm with intact stems, and avoid those with bruising or blemishes on their skin. To see if a pear is ready to eat press gently near the stem – if it gives then it is ready.

Unripe pears can be kept at room temperature and will ripen within three to five days. Another way to ripen them is to put them together with a banana or apple in a brown paper bag. Once ripe put them in the crisper of your fridge; they will last several days this way.

If you’re using them within several days get ripe ones. If your use for them comes later in the week or for cooking under-ripe pears will serve your purpose well. Do not use pears if the waist of the pear gives in to pressure as this indicates that it is over-ripe. Pears should not be in sealed spaces if you want to keep them for a while as the ethylene gas they produce accelerates the ripening process. Also, they should be kept away from strong smelling foods as they absorb smells.

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Before eating wash them gently under cool running water and drying them by patting. Try to eat the skin as well so you get the full range of health benefits. If you’re slicing them use an apple corer before to remove the core. Once cut they will brown from oxidization; use lemon, lime, or orange juice drops to prevent this.

Commonly known pear types are:

  • Bartlett: Most likely to be found in a can they are yellow/ green and speckled. Sometimes called Williams pears.
  • Bosc: Long tapering neck and brown-skinned they have a honey-like flavor profile that is anything but simple.
  • Concorde: Golden/ Green tall and skinny with firmer and more dense than other pear types.
  • Forelle: Meaning “trout” in German it has the appearance of one with red/ green and speckles. Small in form and when it ripens it turns yellow.
  • Green Anjou: Compact and short-necked it can be found everywhere. Can be hard to pick as it does not change colors drastically while ripening.
  • Red Anjou: Think a Green Anjou but now its red. The rich maroon is from higher levels of anthocyanins.
  • Red Bartlett: Think a Bartlett but red. As with the Red Anjou the color comes from more anthocyanins.
  • Seckel: The smallest of the widely-known varieties with yellow/ green coloration mixed with patches of red.
  • Starkrimson: A Red Anjou with a skinnier neck. Shines in salads.

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Eating Pears

Whether its in your oatmeal, made into butter, paired with proteins, in a dessert, juices and smoothies, or eaten raw the variety of pears lends them versatility that’s lets them be used in a variety of situations.
Canning or Preserving: Bartlett, Seckel
Cooking, Baking, Roasting, Poaching: Slightly under-ripe Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett
Desserts: Comice, Forelle, Seckel
Jams and Preserves: Bartlett, Seckel
Salads: Anjou, Bartlett, Seckel
With Cheese: Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Forelle, Seckel
Snacking: Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Forelle, Seckel

Here are some great ideas to try with pears:

  • Whip up a great simple starter with roasted pear slices, mixed salad leaves, pancetta or bacon, scattering blue cheese and a dressing of red wine vinegar and oil.
  • Create a healthy soup – saute garlic, chopped ginger, shallots, chopped pears, celeriac, and vegetable stock; gently simmer until the celeriac is soft, then whiz in a food processor and dress with freshly chopped parsley before eating.
  • Make a great salad by mixing slices of pear with rocket, red oak lettuce leaves, and shaved parmesan dressed with honey, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Serve as a starter or with steak.
  • Combining watercress, lettuce, sliced pears, sprouts and parsley, adding in sliced cooked chicken breast. Create a dressing containing orange juice, balsamic vinegar, wholegrain mustard, fresh chopped tarragon, and oil.
The flavor profile of pears can be enhanced by adding cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, lemon, and vanilla, lemon, or almond extracts.

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If you drink fruit juices purchased from a store be sure to get cloudy (technically known as “high turbidity”) fruit juices. Scientists have found out that clear juices have lost up to 40% of their total phenolic phytonutrients and less antioxidant capacity.

For those that are FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) sensitive then pears may give them more gas, bloating, pain, and diarrhea in some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

For those wondering how to start with pears a local greengrocer will be able to direct you to the different types and how to best utilize them.

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The Nutritional Value of a Pear

Calories: 101
Fat: 0g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Trans Fat: 0g
Carbohydrates: 27g
Fiber: 6g
Sugar: 17g
Added Sugar: 0g
Protein: 1g
Magnesium: 12mg
Potassium: 206mg
Vitamin C: 8mg

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The Fibrous Pear

Which would you rather eat – one pear or a cup of kale? You wouldn’t think it but the pear has more fiber than the latter! A single pear gives you more than 20% of your recommended daily value, keeps your stool healthy, and contributes to overall healthiness.
Just by increasing your fruit and vegetable can you improve fiber intake. Pectin, a soluble fiber within pears, helps gut bacteria and health. A healthy amount of fiber can improve healthy bowel function and feeling full after a meal, and reduce total cholesterol levels. This can lead to weight loss as you don’t feel the urge to snack in-between meals.

Pears have both insoluble and soluble dietary fiber which is long known to be able to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also the reason you feel full throughout the day and in-between meals.

There are reviews that state dietary fiber can regulate the immune system and inflammation, and lowering the risk of inflammation-related condition including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

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While they are sweet it comes from natural sugar; combined with their fibre content your blood sugar levels won’t spike like you would see eating artificial sugar-laden snacks. This results in a low-glycemic index (GI) that also keeps you feeling full.

Fiber helps regulate your bowel by softening and bolstering your stool, and feeding the healthy gut bacteria meaning enhanced immunity and healthily aging. Combined with fructose, and sorbitol which are digestive regulating nutrients these help keep you feeling regular and keep your bowel functioning normally.

The fibers can lower the bile acid pool by binding with bile acids in the intestine. They are also able to bind to secondary bile acids; too much of this in your intestines can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. This is comparable to 5% of the ability of the cholesterol-lowering drug cholestyramine.

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Phytonutrients of a Pear

While a pear has its fair share of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, the phytonutrients is where it shines.

Phytonutrients are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory flavonoids; the skin of pears contains three to four times more phenolic phytonutrients as the flesh. To researchers pears have been of particular interest as their phytonutrients repertoire is expansive.

  • Hydroxybenzoic acids
    • chlorogenic acid
    • gentisic acid
    • syringic acid
    • vanillic acid
  • Hydroxycinnamic acids
    • coumaric acid
    • ferulic acid
    • 5-caffeoylquinic acid
  • Hydroxyquinones
    • Arbutin
  • Flavanols, also known as Flavan-3-ols
    • catechin
    • Epicatechin
  • Flavonols
    • isorhamnetin
    • quercetin
    • Kaempferol
  • Anthocyanins (in red-skinned varieties, including Red Anjou, Red Bartlett, Comice, Seckel, and Starkrimson)
    Carotenoids
    • beta-carotene
    • lutein
    • Zeaxanthin

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Every single one of the above has been proven to lower the risk of many common chronic diseases.

The combination of polyphenols and flavonoids have the potential to treat or ease allergic inflammatory diseases that include asthma, rhinitis, and eczema.

While all fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids a new analysis shows that apples and pears can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The flavanols in pears (including isorhamnetin, quercetin, and kaempferol) flavan-3-ols, and the anthocyanins in red-skinned varieties assist in improving insulin sensitivity.

Research of pear flavonoids and antioxidant components help with gout, rheumatic conditions, inflammation, and metabolic diseases.

Vitamins and Minerals of Pears

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A good source of vitamin A which is integral for your immune system’s growth, development, and maintenance; vitamin C for tissue repair and growth; vitamin K for blood clotting; and folate.

The effects of free radicals in your system are combated by the combination of antioxidants that include vitamin C, K, and copper that protect your cells.

Pears have vitamin C which stave off free radicals which can lead to chronic disease including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even neurodegenerative diseases.

Vitamin A plays a variety of roles such as maintaining healthy skin and hair, and reducing age spots and wrinkles.

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Vitamin C helps with healing wounds, and ascorbic acid assists in generating cellular structures and new organ tissues.

The vitamin C and vitamin A minerals work as antioxidants keeping your immune system strong through the production of white blood cells. The effects of conditions such as flus, colds, upset stomachs, and more are lessened. These antioxidants also flush out free radicals and allowing the growth of healthy cells.

Minerals include potassium for regulating blood pressure; manganese for regulating brain and nerve function; and magnesium for bone strength and muscle, heart, and nerve function regulation

The health of your bones is enhanced by eating pears. The combination of copper, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium are integral to maintaining strong bones, preventing and helping debilitating conditions and bone mineral loss.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

For those that have mineral deficiencies pears help with their iron and copper content. Iron assists in the production of red blood cell, and copper helps with generating minerals and the absorption of iron. All this equates to less muscle weakness, cognitive malfunction, fatigue, and organ system problems.

Pears are high in potassium that help in opening up blood vessels which in turn lowers your blood pressure. The results of this are increased oxygenation to all parts of your body allowing to perform at their best.

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Conclusion

The pear is one of those fruits that are usually sent to the wayside for the popular apple. While some call it the “ugly step-sister” it has qualities that warrant more attention. A mildly-sweet fruit with dietary fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants, no cholesterol and fat, and only 100 calories it is the perfect on-the-go snack as well a welcome addition to any dish.

References

Butler, N., 2019. Pears: Benefits and nutrition. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285430>.

Girdwain, A., 2019. 6 healthy benefits of pears that will win you over. [online] Well+Good. Available at: <https://www.wellandgood.com/pear-benefits/>.

Grow Great Fruit. 2019. What do you think of pears?. [online] Available at: <https://growgreatfruit.com/what-do-you-think-of-pears/>.

Menza, N., n.d. Pears … The Basics – Have A Plant. [online] Have A Plant. Available at: <https://fruitsandveggies.org/stories/pears-the-basics/>.

Naturalhealthmag.com.au. n.d. In season: the health benefits of pears | Nourish magazine Australia. [online] Available at: <https://www.naturalhealthmag.com.au/nourish/season-health-benefits-pears>.

Shukla, S., 2020. Top 10 Reasons Why Pears Must be a Part of your Diet: HealthifyMe Blog. [online] HealthifyMe Blog. Available at: <https://www.healthifyme.com/blog/top-10-reasons-why-pears-must-be-a-part-of-your-diet/>.

Sorels, A., 2019. 4 Surprising Health Benefits of Pears. [online] EatingWell. Available at: <https://www.eatingwell.com/article/292095/4-surprising-health-benefits-of-pears/>.

Whfoods.com. n.d. Pears. [online] Available at: <http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=28>.

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