Asian pears are a common ingredient in a lot of different Asian recipes and tend to be used as an important flavor base in those recipes. When you can’t find this pear, it can be difficult to find a good flavor substitute since, like a lot of Asian produce cultivars, it’s significantly different from more western varieties.
Here’s what you need to know about Asian Pears and how you use them, and then how to choose the right substitute for your cooking!
What Are Asian Pears?
Asian pears are one of those fruits that you'll occasionally see in regular grocery stores but generally have to go to a specialty grocery store to find them. Asian pears look a bit like a yellow apple, even more than looking like a pear. They are also larger than other pears, or even most apples.
This is also a type of pear that is crisp when ripe, rather than softening like your typical barlet-snacking pear.
The best feature of Asian pears, though, isn’t their size or texture. It’s their flavor. Asian pears are syrupy sweet, slightly floral, and have a strong juicy taste.
The combination of size, taste, and texture make Asian pears perfect for snacking, cooking, juicing, or a little of all three. Because these pears are so versatile, you’ll see them all the time in Asian cuisines, in recipes ranging from desserts to even the most hearty and savory dishes.
How Are Asian Pears Used In Cooking?
Asian pears are common in a wide range of cooking practices. They can be added to stir fry, but they are more common in marinades, soups, braises, salads, and more. Most often you’ll expect to see them eaten raw, added to marinades, or in braises that make the most of both the flavor and texture of the fruit.
Once you’ve started experimenting with Asian pears, you’ll probably want to add them to a lot more of your cooking.
Never used an Asian pear before? These 26 Asian pear recipes will help you get started!
The Best Asian Pear Substitutes For Cooking At Home:
Asian pears are an exciting ingredient, but they aren’t an irreplaceable one. Remember that you’re probably only going to get so close to Asian pears, even with other kinds of pear, or with apples or other replacements.
The level of sweetness you need is probably the most important factor to consider when you’re choosing between different substitutes. Texture is often a secondary consideration.
Anjou pears are a European cultivar that is probably the closest you’ll get to Asian pears. They are firmer than other pear varieties, though not as firm as Asian pears. They are sweet, and have more of a fruity flavor than a floral one, but are otherwise similar.
One note, Anjou pears don't produce as much juice as Asian pears, but that can actually make them better for some uses. If you need to manage moisture in your recipe, like in a lot of pear-baking recipes, Anjou pears might actually be a better choice than Asian pears.
Anjou pears are a wonderful choice for making these delicious red wine-poached pears!
However for marinades or adding to savory meals, the lack of juice means you might need more Anjou pears by weight than you would need Asian pears.
Bosc pears are another European pear, and they are similar to Asian pears in both taste and texture. However, they are smaller than a typical Asian pear, which means you’ll need more of them to make a good substitution.
There is another drawback to using bosc pears, which is that they are only widely available during their limited season. This isn’t a hothouse pear that can be gotten year-round, so you can only use this substitute during specific times of year.
Kiwi might seem like an odd choice to replace a pear, but they are a good substitute in two specific uses of Asian pears. The first is meat marinades because kiwi are similarly sweet and also have similar enzymes that help make the meat more tender.
The other use is that kiwi are very sweet and tangy, which makes them a good option for salad dressing and sauces, because you don’t need very many of them to get a similar flavor.
Lemon Lime Soda
Another odd replacement choice, lemon-lime sodas are a good option for adding to sauces and marinades instead of Asian pears.
This option works because lemon-lime sodas don't actually add a ton of flavor, and can start to taste a little more floral when heated. They are also very sweet, which is a critical quality for replacing Asian pears because of how sweet the pears are.
Just don’t try to add too much of the soda. A little goes a long way, and you can always add more later if you don’t think the mix is sweet enough.
Forelle pears are a bit smaller than other pairs and have the classic bell shape that many of us associate with pears.
Surprisingly, these pears are actually even crunchier than Asian pears, which means that they hold up just about as well when cooked or added to desserts or marinades. They are also a delicious addition to salads and raw vegetable side dishes, both because of their flavor and because of their unique crunchy texture.
The biggest problem with using Forelle pears is that they are significantly smaller than Asian pears, so you will need more of them to make up the same recipe.
Like a lot of other pear varieties, Forelle pears are also only available during their specific season, and they aren’t as popular as some other varieties. That means you might have a hard time finding Forelle pears, which is the only reason they aren’t higher up on this list.
Barlett pears are probably the pears you grew up with if you ate pears here in the US. They are sweet, very soft when they are ripe and deliciously juicy.
All of those qualities make these pears a good addition to marinades, as well as a good option for adding to sauces, slow-cooked foods, and bakes, but not a good option for stir fry. That’s because Bartlet pears tend to disintegrate into a texture like apple sauce when cooked, so you want to use them in sauces for flavor, not texture.
Fuji apples are also a surprisingly good substitute for Asian pears because they have a delicious sweet flavor that is similar to Asian pears. The crisp texture is also similar, though Fuji apples are smaller than Asian pears.
They are one of the best substitutes for use in salads, cold desserts, and anywhere you want the crisp bright sweet flavor of an Asian pear to really stand out.
Taylor’s Gold Pear
Taylor’s Gold pears are another good option, and unlike most pears, they can be found almost year-round in grocery stores. They are almost as sweet as Asian pears, but the texture isn’t very similar. They are better in jams, jelly, or sauces than in any recipe that needs the pears to be solid and crunchy.
Pink Lady Apple
Pink Lady apples are a good choice for people who want a similar taste and texture to an Asian pear, but want a little less sweetness and more tang to help balance the flavor. These apples are better in jams, salads, and marinades than in other uses.
The tang of pink lady apples makes them a perfect pairing for beef and barbecue meats as well, and it works particularly well in a lot of Korean cooking.
If you like the idea of replacing pears with an apple but want the high sweetness of a pear, gala apples are a good choice. These apples are a good bit smaller than Asian pears though, ranging from ⅓ to ½ the size of the average pear. So, like some of the other substitutes in this list, you might need to get more apples to add to your recipe.
Pineapple has a more distinct flavor than a lot of the other Asian pear substitutes we’ve mentioned in this list, but, the enzymes in pineapple are what make it a great pear substitute. Asian pears are often used in meat dishes to help tenderize the meat, and pineapple is actually even better at getting the job done.
It’s also a bit sweeter, with both fruity and floral notes. So you can add a little less pineapple to your recipe to make a good substitute. If you’re using canned pineapple, not fresh, add just a little more.
Comice pears are a bit further from Asian pears than the other pears we’ve talked about, but they are still a good option for marinades, smoothies, and other dishes where you want a very smooth texture. In fact, their high sweetness and juicy textures can make them an even better option for smooth textured foods.
They’re even a good option for making gels and jellies, like in our 25 Sure-Jell recipes!
White Fruit Juice
As an option of last resort, any white fruit juice can also work as a substitute for Asian pears in sauces, marinades, and even some jams and jellies. Think, apple juice, white grape juice, other kinds of pear juice, and similar. It should be a fruit that is very sweet and has a more subtle flavor.
This is all about adding the sweetness and fruity floral flavors back into your cooking. It’s not a texture substitute.
If you need the enzyme reactions or any other cooking properties, look for fresh pressed juices instead of juice made from concentrate. That way more of the properties of the fruit are preserved.