Juicy, soft, and sweet, pears are a fabulously versatile fruit. It can be overwhelming, though, once you dip into the variety of pears available at grocery stores and farmers markets. Which should you choose when you want to add fresh pear to a salad? How about if you're making a pear tart or a poached pear? Different pears are best for different types of dishes since there are times when you want pears to keep their shape and other times when you want them to fall apart.
Best Pears to Eat Raw
All ripe pears can be enjoyed raw, either eaten out-of-hand or sliced into salads. Here's what you can expect in terms of flavor and texture from common pear varieties:
- Anjou Pear: A firm, mild-flavored pear that is perfectly juicy. Red and green Anjou pears are nearly identical in flavor.
- Asian Pear: Full-on crunchy and similar in texture and shape to apples, this is a very mild-flavored pear with a soft, grainy texture.
- Bartlett (or Williams) Pear: This is the perfect choice when you want a really, really juicy pear. Both red and green Bartletts are also among the sweetest pears you'll find.
- Bosc Pear: These pears are wonderfully crisp, with a delicate sweet flavor that resembles the stereotypical pear taste perfectly.
- Comice Pear: Not as grainy as classic pears, this variety has a great clean and bright pear flavor that's surprisingly sweet. It's soft and juicy, and arguably the best choice to eat raw.
- Concorde Pear: Juicy, with a vanilla-like flavor and smooth texture, these pears are crisp right after harvest and soften as they ripen.
- French Butter and Seckel Pears: These varieties can be eaten raw, but they need to be fully and completely ripe for it to be a pleasant experience. Even slightly underripe versions have a sharp, tannic hit.
Pear flesh tends to oxidize or turn brown when cut and exposed to the air. You can minimize any browning in salads by dipping the sliced pears in a mix of about 1/2 cup water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice first. They can also be tossed with a fairly acidic salad dressing.
Pears That Keep Their Shape
When cooking pears, there are two types of desired outcomes: Pears that keep their shape or fall apart. You'll want to choose pears that hold together well when making poached, baked, or grilled pears.
Look to the crispest raw pears to find those that can withstand heat. The popular Bosc pear is the best option. Anjou pears are another top choice and Concorde and French butter pears are also reliable.
Pears That Fall Apart
Pears should fall apart when making things like pear sauce or butter. For these recipes, turn to the Bartlett pear, which will turn to mush under the slightest heat. As an extra bonus, Bartletts are plentiful at markets, so they're always there when you need them.
Consider too, mixing pears of both types. For instance, a combination of Bartletts and Bosc in a pie can be lovely. The Bosc pears hold their shape beautifully when surrounded by a Bartlett pear sauce.