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Produce 101: Pears

We know you know what pears are, but do you really *know* pears?

What’s the best pear for poaching? What pear doesn’t usually oxidize and is great raw for salads? What pear is great for snacking? Different varieties have different kitchen roles and selecting the best one for the job can make a difference.

Ethylene can become a friend or foe when it comes to the storage and handling of your produce. Where do pears fall in relation to ethylene?

Let’s dig in.

Produce 101: Pears — Two Families

There are two main families of pears: the European pear is the most common and what we think of when referring to a pear, it’s got that elongated slightly round bulbous pear shape… and then we have the Asian cultivars of pears that look more like apples and are sometimes sold as Apple Pears.

This is an example of a European pear, specifically, the Bosc variety. European pears are what you commonly see in the market, and they have the classic “pear shape” with a narrow neck and bulbous shape.


This is an example of an Asian pear; there are many varieties known, such as Nashi, 20th Century, or Shinseiki to name a few. They are also referred to as “Apple Pears”. These pears have a non-acid sweet flavor and a crisp water chestnut/jicama texture common to the Asian varieties of pears. The skin may be a little gritty, consider peeling if serving in a salad.


freshpoint-produce-101-pear-asian-yali (1)
This is an example of an Asian pear; this variety is called Yali. The Yali has that classic Asian pear sweet taste with no acid and a water chestnut/jicama texture. Skin texture is smoother than of other Asian pears, but may still be a little gritty; again consider peeling if serving in a salad.


Produce 101: Pears–Grades

Asian Pears

Asian pears do not have USDA specs or grades; they’re typically sold in single layer cases by count. They’re usually shipped in netted socks to prevent bruising and damage during shipment… the skin is delicate and thin, and the foam sock helps to mitigate loss.

These pears are generally “presentation” type pears and perfect for fruit baskets, where an inviting fruit with high eye-appeal is important.

Look at this pear: it’s gorgeous!


You will usually see Asian pears packed in netted foam “socks” in a tray pack case. The socks and tray pack help to prevent damage to their delicate skin, skin slip, or bruising.


European Pears

European pears on the other hand, have two separate grading systems depending on when the pears were harvested. Summer and fall pears have one set of grades, and winter pears have another set. The vast majority of what’s available on the market are grades US#1 and #2, and it’s based mostly on external looks: skin color uniformity of color of the variety, lack of scarring, and a ripeness factor.

California actually has a higher grade standard, as they do with their stone fruit, based on the overall ripeness of a pear.

Produce 101: Pears — Ripening

How do you determine the ripeness of a pear without actually biting into it? In the fields a pressure tester is used, which is a probe that determines how many pounds per square inch is required to break through the skin of the fruit. This is used to decide how ripe a pear is by commercial growers and inspectors. They take care of the first part of ripening, you take it from there.


This is an illustration of a “penetrometer” tool. It is a pressure tool used to determine how ripe a pear is by commercial growers and inspectors. It is not meant for restaurants or kitchen use.


How You Should Check for Ripeness

Since you don’t have this tool, the best way to check for ripeness is to press on the stem end, if it yields to gentle pressure and it smells like a pear—you’re ready to go.

How to Ripen Pears

What is the best way to ripen a pear? Well, it’s pretty easy—if you have a small amount, put  them in a breathable bag—it could be a paper bag or a micro-perf plastic bag, and just let them sit out and ripen. They don’t like it to be completely sealed, they need some ventilation.


Ripening suggestion: a paper bag is a great way to ripen a small amount of pears at room temperature. If you have a lot of pears to ripen, open the case and let them sit out at room temperature. If pears are individually wrapped with paper, make sure to unwrap them and allow for ample ventilation. They release a lot of ethylene and that, coupled with the cooler condensation evaporation as they come to room temperature, make them susceptible to decay without adequate air movement.

Produce 101: Pears — Storage and Handling

When handling pears, take care–they are *very* susceptible to bruising and scarring, as well as skin slip, so don’t stack heavy things on top of the cases, don’t drop the cases…and by all means, treat these beauties delicately, especially when ripe.

Store your pears and the coldest part of your walk-in, they like it cold, but don’t freeze them, they won’t be good to eat out of hand. The other big concern is pears produce a lot of ethylene, so take care where you put them in your walk-in–keep them away from sensitive items such as lettuces to maximize the produce shelf-life of everything in your cooler.


In this illustration, the coolest part is near the fan (1), and the warmest is by the door (3).  Your cooler layout may be different, but near the fan is generally the coldest part of your cooler. Pears like it cold, store them near the coldest part of the cooler without freezing them.


Produce 101: Pears — Choosing the Right Pear for the Right Job




Watch Dan as he talks about Produce 101: Pears


Contact your Marketing Associate about adding pears to your next order. If you are not a customer, find out how to become one today!

Content provided by Chef Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Additional contributions by Lisa Pettineo.

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