Real Food Encyclopedia | Asian Pear

Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) are native to Japan and China, where they have been grown for more than 3,000 years. While their flavor and appearance may be reminiscent of European pears, Asian pears developed from a different species.

These fruits can be divided into two main groups. Japanese pears (also called nashi) are better adapted to warm climates. They are round with russeted skin and sweet, juicy flesh. Chinese pears (ya li) are more cold-hardy and are shaped more similarly to European pears, tapered at the top and rounder at the base.

The first Asian pears in North America landed in Queens, New York, in 1820. The biggest influx of Asian pears in the States came later in the century, on the West Coast, brought by Asian immigrants during the Gold Rush. They were originally grown only in home gardens or appreciated as ornamental plants, but eventually found added value for their resistance against fire blight, a common disease threat to established European pear crops. Asian and European pears were hybridized to create varieties that were more disease resistant.

Asian pears are appreciated for their unique texture and delicate flavor. However, much of the tending and harvesting is best done by hand, which has kept them from reaching the commercial volumes of their European counterparts.

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Fun facts about Asian pears:

  • There are a number of names for Asian pears, including “apple pears,” which has led some to mistake them for a cross between apples and pears, and “sand pears,” an unappetizing reference to their pleasingly gritty texture.
  • Some believe that eating Asian pears (or drinking their juice) before a night out will mitigate any day-after effects of alcohol.

What to look for when buying Asian pears

The texture and flavor of Asian pears does not improve after picking. Unlike European pears, which are best eaten when they begin to soften, Asian pears are enjoyed while they are still firm. They have a crunch that is as audible as an apple’s, but can be much juicier. Their somewhat speckled skin is usually golden in color, but can be tinged with green, brown or yellow. The skin may be smooth or russeted with a fine, web-like texture.

Asian pears bruise easily, so you want to look for those that have been carefully handled. They will often be displayed in net protectors or, in a more environmentally sensitive arrangement, in a recyclable carton, separated like eggs. The fruit is so easily damaged that it is often packed directly in the field rather than being transferred to a packing house.

Sustainability of Asian pears

Orchard fruits of all types are susceptible to pest infestation, as their fragrance and sweet taste make them just as attractive to bugs as they are to humans. The same is true of disease. Unlike field crops, trees can’t be rotated to break an infestation pattern. Instead, topical treatments are often applied. Chemical “thinners” have been applied to Asian pear trees to diminish the number of fruits produced and increase the fruit size of the remaining yield.

While the Environmental Working Group has added pears to its “Dirty Dozen” list of most contaminated produce items, the organization did not single out Asian pears as part of this group.


In the U.S., the Asian pear harvest generally falls between mid-July and September, but can extend before or after that timeframe with early- and late-blooming varieties.


In addition to being grown in Japan, China and Korea, Asian pears thrive in Italy, Spain, Australia, France, Chile and New Zealand. In the United States, the bulk of commercial production comes from California and Oregon, with a smaller supply coming out of Washington, Kentucky and Alabama.

Eating Asian pears


Asian pears keep very well. They can be held in cold storage for several months. At room temperature, the fruit will last two to three weeks before losing its crunchy texture.


While you can cook Asian pears, part of the delight is in their crisp texture and juiciness, both of which are lost with heat. The fruits can be used in a variety of ways: The juice can act as a meat tenderizer and is a traditional ingredient in Korean barbecue marinades, and thin slices or matchsticks can bring a delicate crunch to poke. On a cheese plate, their sweet flavor pairs well with blue cheese or the nutty-butterscotch flavor of aged Gouda. Asian pears also taste great in sandwiches and salads, including, of course, fruit salad.


You can pickle Asian pears to capture their crunch, or can them to make sure they last until the next season.


Asian pears are an excellent source of dietary fiber, particularly if you eat the skin. They are also a good source of potassium, Vitamin K, copper and Vitamin C. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the fruit to treat coughs and bronchial ailments.

Top photo by bbourdages/Adobe stock.