Food Focus: Pears

It’s September, and that means pear season. Here’s your intro on pears including how to choose and store them as well as the nutrient picture.

 

Nutrient Makeup
The skin of pears is particularly high in phytonutrients (phyto- means plant based). These plant chemicals include antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids. Some of the phytonutrients, like cinnamic acids (also found in cinnamon), have been linked to potential anti-cancer effects.

 

Click here for more info regarding pears and the following cancers: colorectal, stomach/gastric, and esophageal.

 

Although not specifically researched, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects could be helpful in other conditions that result from oxidative stress and consistent inflammation. Heart disease is one of these conditions.

 

The pear skin is too important to leave out. Nearly half of the fiber in pears comes from the skin. A medium pear will contain about 5g of fiber, and our goal is up in the 30-40g range. That means one pear provides about 15% of our daily fiber intake. Higher dietary fiber is correlated with lower risks of Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease. The fiber itself can slightly lower the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the foods making the pear a nice part of a low cholesterol dietary plan. Even the varieties with bitter skin are worth it.

 

Flavonoid family phytonutrients are also present. Researchers study these chemicals for their ability to increase insulin sensitivity (reversing insulin resistance) thus decreasing the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. This is only one fruit that has blood sugar balancing chemicals. Don’t disregard fruits when eating for diabetes.


Picking and Storing Pears
You can tell when your pear is ripe by applying gentle pressure to the neck of the pear. If it gives then its ripe, sweet, and ready to eat. If the skin is very soft and squishy, it’s overripe. If you do find yourself with an overripe pear, try eating it cooked instead of raw.

 

To ripen your pears, store them in a paper bag at room temperature. Rotate occasionally. The pear will ripen faster with other pears in the bag (more ethylene gas). Avoid plastic bags. These will block air flow and are more likely to lead to overripe and rotten pears.

 

To slow down the ripening process and to prevent over ripening, place your pears in the refrigerator.

 

As always, the best choice is the whole fruit. Juices, especially filtered or pulp free juices, will miss many of the nutrients that make pears to valuable.


Organic or Conventional?
Pears are #6 in the EWG’s Dirty Dozen 2017 list making it one of the foods that tested highest in agricultural chemical AFTER washing. It’s best to choose organic when buying pears if that’s available and affordable for you.

2017 Dirty Dozen (#1 is most contaminated)

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet Bell Peppers
  12. Potatoes

Also Worthy of the List: Hot Peppers (#13)

See the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists here.


Pear Varieties
There is a whole family of pears. Like apples, at least some of the fruit’s variety has been preserved.
Which should you choose?

Bartlett (pale golden yellow/green)               Season: September – February
juicy, sweet, slightly bitter skin,
soft, and good in most forms from fresh to cooked

 

Red Barlett (red)               Season: August – January
Just like the classic Barlett
juicy, sweet honey-like flavor, slightly bitter skin,
soft, and good in most forms from fresh to cooked

 

Concord (green and long)               Season: September – February
Crisp, sweet, creamy.
Firmer, great when chopped thinly and used in salads and fruit bowls, and great poached, baked, or roasted

 

Green Anjou (green and fat)               Season: September – May
Soft, sweet, subtle lemon/citrus essence
Good in most forms

 

Red Anjou (dark red, maroon)               Season: October – May
soft, sweet, subtle deep and spicy essence
Good in most forms

 

Starkrimson (crimson colored)               Season: August – January
Sweet, juicy, mild floral taste
Softer and excellent for baking.

 

Bosc (cinnamon brown/gold)               Season: September – April
mildly sweet, rich, crunchy with strong pear flavor, buttery flesh
Firm, good in most forms but specifically when cooked in savory dishes

 

Comice (green with red hue)               Season: September – March
sweet, ripe pear flavor,
Soft, Excellent when chopped and paired with other flavors (cheeses and meats)

 

Seckel (yellow/green and red hues)               Season: September – February
crisp, firm, unique flavor, sweet
harder, good when sliced thinly or cooked

 

Forelle (red and green mix with dots)               Season: October – March
fairly crisp, mild sweetness, slightly tangy
good for using fresh

 


Fun Fact
The pear is part of the rose family (Rosacea) so if you’ve tasted any rose teas, tinctures, or extracts of any kind you might notice some similar tastes and sensations. Like the rose, the pear can have a floral taste that is seemingly paired with an astringent sensation. By astringent, I mean a somewhat drying, tightening sensation almost like a puckering of the skin in the mouth and on the tongue. This sensation is more noticeable in certain types of pears and may be more noticeable in pre-ripe pears. The closer they get to optimal ripeness, the less pronounced this astringent sensation may be. Apples are also in the rose family and have some similar nutritional features as the pear.

 


Resources

Pears. (2017). Then World’s Healthiest Foods. Retrieved from http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=28

EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce: Executive Summary. (2017). The Environmental Working Group. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce: Dirty Dozen. (2017). The Environmental Working Group. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php#.Wbgjaq3Mwy4


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