I can't help but wonder pear's popularity as one of the world's favorite fruits is connected with its representation of longevity and strength in some cultures.
Pears are one of the oldest cultivated fruits and there are more than 3,000 varieties worldwide. But, is one pear equal to another pear? Yes, and no.
Nutritionally, pears, like other fruits and vegetables provide a good sources of fiber. Yet pears are special, offering 6 grams of fiber per serving and ranking them as one of the highest sources of fiber from a fresh fruit (you must eat the skin to reap all of the fiber benefits). Better yet, half of the fiber is soluble fiber, which can lead to lower cholesterol. High fiber foods, such as pears, also help with weight management as they are so filling. At 100 calories per medium-sized pear, the fruit is also a source of vitamin C.
In 2011, Dutch researchers found additional benefits to this sweet fruit. Turns out fruits and vegetables with white flesh may have the added benefit of lowering stroke risk. The study found that for every 25 grams of white-fleshed fruits and vegetables eaten per day, there was a 9 percent decrease in risk of stroke and a 52 percent lower risk of stroke incidence. A typical medium sized pear weighs 166 grams. Therefore, even a couple of pear slices can offer stroke reduction benefits. Apples, applesauce, apple juice, pears, bananas, cucumbers, cauliflower, mushrooms and chicory were the other white-fleshed produce included in the association of lower stroke risk.
Pears fall into two categories: European and Asian. Bite per bite they are equal in nutrition value but the difference lies within their ripeness. European pears ripen once off the tree while Asian pears are ready to eat as soon as they are plucked from the branches.
Similar to apples, we have a wide variety of pears to choose from nearly year round. Bartlett pears appear in our markets in August. Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Seckel and Forelle pears can be found throughout the winter months. Flavors can be spicy, sweet, sweet tart or a combination of the above and can fit into any part of a meal from appetizer to dessert. Here's a primer:
Anjou: Juicy with a hint of citrus. Use in salads and with with cheese. Can be cooked, baked, roasted and poached.
Bartlett: Very aromatic and juicy. Use in canning or preserving, with cheese or in desserts. Can be cooked or roasted.
Bosc: Crisp and sweet. Use with cheese. Can be cooked, baked, roasted and poached.
Comice: Very sweet and soft. Enjoy raw as a snack or in desserts. Good with cheese.
Forelle: Crisp and tangy. Enjoy raw as a snack or in desserts. Good with cheese.
Seckel: Crunchy and very sweet. Use for canning or preserving or in salads. Good with cheese.
If you're already familiar with Barletts, the most common variety, I encourage you to treat your taste buds to the other varieties this season. You might just find your perfect pear.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.