Pears are the staple of late summer and early autumn. They’re just as good as apples, but you don’t see them around as much because they’re not as important of a crop. And when they do come around, you still have to wait for them to ripen, like bananas. One of them most important things anyone notices when biting into a pear is that it’s gritty, or some may call it mealy.
Why are pears so gritty ? And how do they turn from hard, dense fruits into softer, juicy pears ? What makes pears so sweet ? And do they ever ripe on the tree, or do you always have to ripen them at home ? All this and more, coming right up.
Why are pears gritty ?
Pears are gritty because they contain a lot of stone cells, called sclereids. These cells protect the unripe pear from damage, giving it a tough flesh. As the pear ripens, the sugar around these stone cells multiplies, and turns the pear into a juicy fruit, significantly soften and sweeter.
This process needs ethylene, a natural gas produced by decomposing, or ripening, fruit and vegetables.
Do pears ripen on the tree ?
No, pears don’t ripen on the tree. They ripen from the inside out, so by the time the outside of the fruit is soft and edible, the inside is already starting to rot, and it may have already fallen off the tree.
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So pears are harvested when the fruit is large enough, and will not develop more, in terms of size. However these pears are unripe, meaning they are hard, not sweet, and need to be ripened at room temperature for 2-5 days, depending on the case.
Much like avocado, a hard pear is an advantage during transport because it won’t spoil easily, nor will or break open or get too many scratches.
Why are pears so sweet ?
Pears are so sweet because they contain extra doses of sugar: both sorbitol and fructose. Fructose is found in any fruit, and sorbitol is another type of sugar that actually acts as a laxative (also found in prunes).
The sugars develop around the stone cells, drawing water and plumping up the pear. This is also what makes pears so soft once they’re ripe. But the process works from the inside-out, so the inside of the pear will ripen before the exterior does.
Why are pears so juicy ?
Pears are juicy because of their sweetness. Sugar attracts water, and the sorbitol-fructose mix around the stone cells attracts the water inside the fruit. That water was initially there to provide nutrients to the pear, but once it’s finished growing the sugars will use it to develop.
This is why really good, sweet, ripe pears are practically wet once you bite into them, and unripe pears are dry.
How do you ripen pears ?
You can easily ripen pears at home by storing them properly, and you can prolong their shelf life ! To ripen pears you simply need to let them sit on the counter or somewhere at room temperature. Try to keep them out of direct sunlight.
It can take anywhere from a couple of days to almost a week for the pears to ripe. If you keep them with other fruit this will happen quicker, because they are all producing ethylene.
To check if your pears are ripe, don’t rely on the outer skin. It’s more important to tough the upper part, closer to the core of the pear. Once that’s soft, the rest of the pear is edible as well. Once the outside skin is soft, the upper part and the core are almost too soft.
Can I cook with hard pears ?
Yes, you can cook and bake with hard pears, in fact it might even be a good idea. Because of the heat and cooking liquid, the pears will soften just right, without getting too squishy. A ripe, soft pear will turn to much once cooked in any way.
When using hard pears, keep in mind the sugars have not developed. This means you will have to add sugar to the recipe, or sweeten the pears in some way.
What can I use instead of pears ?
Common pear substitutes are other tough fruits like apples, quinces, plantains, mangos, pineapples, and for sweetness even white grapes will do. Which you use depends on what you’re cooking, or baking.
For example in a pie apples and quinces will work just as well as any pear you can think of. Mangoes and pineapples go better in a smoothie or fruit salad, in place of a fresh, ripe pears.
Plantains, apples, and quinces all go great as glazed, caramelized pear substitutes. And if all you’ve got is sweet, white grapes then those will do just fine, as long as they’re very sweet and juicy.
And that’s pretty much it ! Now you know why pears are so gritty, and how that ties into making them so sweet. Pears always need a little time on the counter to ripen, but once they do they’re absolutely delicious.