Pear season is here and, lucky for us, the options are endless. And while big green Anjou pears and soft, juicy Bartletts have their place, the absolute star of the season are Asian pears. If you don’t know how to buy them or are looking for recipes to help them shine, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about Asian pears, whether you’re a longtime fan or just getting ready to eat them.
What are Asian pears?
Take a Honeycrisp apple. Now, expand it in size and flavor – a little crisper, with syrupier nectar and some added floral notes. It’s an Asian pear, and nothing tastes like it.
Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia if we want to be precise), belong to the Rosaceae family, like apples, peaches and strawberries. The fruit is native to East Asia, and more particularly to western China. Asian pears were domesticated more than 3,300 years ago and reached California by immigrants from China and Japan in the 1850s.
Asian pears have many common names: they also go by the names nashi pears, sand pears, apple pears, Japanese pears, Chinese pears, and Korean pears, to name a few. But there are actually thousands of varieties of Asian pears, including hosui, nijisseiki (also known as 20th century), shinko and niitaka.
Depending on the variety, an Asian pear can range in color from bronze to greenish-yellow. The skin texture has a grainy, matte finish. As food editor Shilpa Uskokovic explains: “It’s slightly rougher than the skin of a Western pear. » But the texture of the fruit itself is “crunchy like a green apple with the syrupy juiciness of a watermelon.” When you cut one open, the flesh is usually pale and the center contains small seeds. As for its taste, Shilpa describes it as “notes of pineapple and fragrant elderflower.”
How to Buy Asian Pears
Asian pears are typically grown from late summer to early winter. You can count on finding them at many supermarkets and farmers’ markets, at Asian grocery markets and even online.
To look for a perfectly ripe Asian pear, Shilpa recommends choosing one that is large and wrapped to protect it. She explains: “If your Asian pear isn’t gigantic, fragrant and doesn’t have a foam jacket to prevent bruising, use a few crisp apples instead. » (A notable exception to this rule is the farmer’s market, where your Asian pear can be naked and still look spectacular.) You can also smell the fruit: it should have a light pear scent. Unlike Western pears like Bartlett, an Asian pear should not be soft to the touch. In this case, the sweetness may actually be a sign of an overripe pear, which would taste custard-like and slightly fermented, like leftover wine.
To store Asian pears, you can leave them on the counter at room temperature and use them within a few days, or store them in the refrigerator for up to three months.
How to Use Asian Pears
So, how to use Asian pears in cooking? There are many applications, but it is most often served raw or grated in marinades and braises.
Asian pears are a reliable meat tenderizer: The pear contains enzymes and acids that break down fibrous meat. That’s why it’s often found grated or pureed in basic bulgogi marinades, making it a sweet, melt-in-the-mouth cut.
Because of their unique jicama-like texture, they are an obvious contender for salads. Try Shilpa’s tangy and zesty pear salad recipe. “The crunch of the lettuce, radish and pear all mimic each other while the avocado is oily and creates some tension,” says Shilpa. “A creamy, spicy vinaigrette against cool, refreshing fruit makes you want to keep it going.”
And if you just want to chop them up and eat them right off your cutting board, go for it.