by Dr Rupy Aujla14 Feb 2023
Pears are one of the oldest plants cultivated by humans. They are native to Europe and West Asia and have been enjoyed for thousands of years.
As a food: They have been cherished as a sweet fruit by cultures throughout history. The ancient Greek author Homer described them as “gifts from the gods” in The Odyssey, likely due to their sweet, juicy flavour. In Korea, they have been cultivated since the Samhan period, about 300 BCE. Throughout the UK, they have been grown in gardens and orchards since AD 995 and many cultivars now exist. (Hong et al. 2021; WoodlandTrust)
𖧵 In traditional remedies : Ancient documents mention pears in medical prescriptions. They were used traditionally for diverse applications, such as respiratory symptom relievers, fever management, inflammation treatment and alcohol hangovers. Jun Heo, a royal physician, described the usage of pears in his Korean traditional medical book in 1613. Check out this English translation (Hong et al. 2021)
Pears contain a complex collection of compounds, including:
Triter-what? These compounds are interesting for their potential beneficial effects. In cell and animal studies, they showed antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities. (Hong et al. 2021)
What makes pears special: They are especially rich in insoluble dietary fibres. (Reiland et al. 2015)
What about when we eat them as part of our diet?
Eating a few pears a week may support our health:
Studies usually look at pears and apples together because they’re quite similar in composition.
How many? Positive results were found for a few pears & apples every week – ranging from 1-2 portions per day to 3-5 per week, alongside a variety of fruits and vegetables.
How does it work? Researchers think that an eating pattern including pears could support good health by:
The bigger picture: Nutrition studies are challenging. These results found a connection between eating pears and health, but it does not mean that pears are causing health. Looking at what we eat is complex – many factors could be influencing these results and more studies are needed on pears specifically.
One of your fruit options: Pears can be one of your weekly fruits for their taste, texture and health-supporting potential. Eat them alongside a variety of other foods.
Spotting pear trees: Pear trees are grown on various farms across the UK. Some varieties can tolerate cold temperatures. Keep an eye out for their grey-brown bark, featuring a square pattern. The fruits grow on long stalks and ripen to a golden yellow colour with sweet, grainy-textured flesh. Wild pears can be found growing in hedges, woodland margins, old gardens and waste ground. They easily spread through seed dispersal and discarded fruit cores. (Woodland Trust)
The future of pear growing is on a knife edge: A recent survey by the British Grower Association revealed that 150,000 apple and pear trees have been cancelled this season, putting the future of UK apple and pear growing in doubt.
Why it’s happening: According to the British Grower Association, the main reason is that supermarkets aren’t paying enough for the fruit, which makes it hard for farmers to make a profit. Although the cost of picking, energy, haulage, and packaging has gone up by 23%, the amount farmers get paid by retailers has remained almost static. British growers only receive a 0.8% increase from supermarkets each year, despite a report recommending a 12% increase in return.
Why it matters: Losing British apple and pear trees is an issue for growers and food security, but also biodiversity in our countryside. Apple and pear orchards are a sustainability success story, with most growers working with local beekeepers, having wildflower leys on headlands, and keeping grass margins that aren’t cut or travelled.
As consumers, we can:
Choosing pears: Pears are best enjoyed in the fall and winter months from September through to February. Choose them in their whole form, with the skin on.
My favourite ways to eat pears:
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Type 2 diabetes: Guo et al. Food & function. 2017
Cardiovascular health & Brain health: Gayer et al. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019 – Jennings et al. Hypertension. 2021