Pears prove that good things come in small packages. Not only are they available at just about every supermarket, they’re easy to eat (no need to peel or core or pit), low in calories and high in fiber: With six grams, a single pear supplies almost a quarter of the recommended daily amount. High-fiber foods are a boon for gut health, and they’re filling so you’ll be less likely to snack in between meals.
Like pineapples and mangoes, pears are sweet and juicy. But unlike pineapples and mangoes, they are low on the glycemic index—an important distinction. “The glycemic index is a relative ranking of carbs and how they affect glucose levels in the blood,” explains Dr. Yin Cao, an assistant professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. “Foods low on the glycemic index are more slowly digested. In general, foods high on the glycemic index are associated with the risk of diabetes and some cancers.” What’s more, even though they’re sweet, pears won’t cause blood sugar to spike in people who are diabetic.
Dr. Cao points out that pears are good sources of potassium, a mineral that many people lack in their day-to-day diets. Potassium is crucial to regulating blood pressure and maintaining kidney health. Even though oranges tend to get the glory for vitamin C content, pears are also a great source. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects against disease, supports cell growth and boosts the immune system,” Dr. Cao says. “The copper in pears can also help keep the immune system healthy. So if you feel a late-summer cold coming on, have a pear or two!”
Asian pears are apple-like in shape and texture, but because thousands of varieties fall under the “Asian pear” umbrella, their color might be pale orange or golden yellow or even light green. Sweet, mild and crunchy, they bring a citrusy snap to salads. You’ll pay a bit more for Asian pears, but it’s worth it: Some can last for months in the fridge.
If a pear is found canned or juiced or pureed on supermarket shelves in the US, there’s a good chance it’s a Bartlett. These can be a sunny yellow or a rosy red, and they have a buttery sweet flavor. Bartletts are prone to bruising and can turn mealy soon after they’re ripe, so don’t wait to enjoy them — they are in peak season right now.
Beautiful Bosc pears look like they belong in still-life paintings, with their slender, tapering necks and bronze skin. Their complex flavor is as intriguing as their shape: sweet but with spicy undertones. These tend to be firmer than other pear varieties, so they are superb for poaching or baking.
These all-purpose pears have a firm texture, a mild taste and hold up well when baked. Unlike other kinds of pears, D’Anjous don’t change color as they ripen. They start as a matte green or red and stay that way. To check for ripeness, press gently near the stem — it should give just a bit. At around 100 calories apiece, D’Anjous are perfect as an on-the-go snack, and they’re a fine source of fiber.
Small enough that a few can fit in the palm of your hand, Seckel pears are so sweet they’re sometimes called candy pears or sugar pears. Their harvest begins next month, so be on the lookout for these wee fruits: They’re olive green in color and often punctuated with a flush of red. Seckels are at their best when eaten raw.
In Good Taste is brought to you in partnership with Siteman Cancer Center. Watch for more healthy, seasonal cooking ideas each month.