According to the dictionary, a fruit is defined as, “the ripened ovary of a flowering plant, containing one or more seeds” (source). By this definition, a pear is a fruit.
According to many academics, a vegetable is defined as any edible portion of a soft-stemmed, or herbaceous, plant. However, the dictionary defines a vegetable as any edible portion of any plant (source).
So, could a pear also be labeled as a vegetable?
If you take a trip to the local grocer, they categorize fruits and vegetables differently because botanists classify fruits differently than culinary professionals.
Let’s address where pears fit into both the botanical world and the culinary arts. We’ll also explore how fruit pears compare to vegetable pears.
What Makes Pear a Botanical Fruit?
Botanically speaking, fruit develops from the ovary of a flower. This means fruit includes mangos, nuts, pumpkins, grains, etc.
A pear is a type of fruit called a pome, which forms from the reproductive organs of a flower and the receptacle of a flower (the bowl-like green structure at the end of a stem from which a flower blooms).
Apples, cherries, and olives are other examples of pomes.
There are three types of flowers that develop into orchard fruit, and they’re distinguished by how deep the flower’s ovary sits in the receptacle. Flower type directly affects which part of the plant transforms into delicious, fleshy tissue (source).
The pear produces an epigynous flower, which means the ovaries sit deeply embedded in the receptacle beneath the other floral parts such as petals.
The pistil will grow into the core, which protects the seeds, while the ovary grows around the core for protection.
Why does this matter?
Because this makes a pear an accessory fruit.
True Fruit vs. Accessory Fruit
Pears are classified as an accessory fruit; not a true fruit.
Accessory is a scientific classification.
The University of Wisconsin distinguishes the difference between true and accessory:
“A fruit developed solely from the ovary and its contents is known as a true fruit. A fruit developed from the ovary and its contents plus additional parts of the flower such as the receptacle, petals, and sepals is known as an accessory fruit” (source).
In other words, a pear is an accessory fruit because it grows from more than just the ovary at the base of a flower; it grows from both the ovary and the additional parts which form the core.
Admittedly, this is not as exciting as the idea of fashion-industry pears, but who’s to say they can’t also be a statement piece?
What Makes Pear a Culinary Fruit?
An international research agency defines culinary fruits as the part of the plant with seeds and fleshy tissue that is edible and tastes sweet or tart. By this definition, culinary fruits do not include nuts, beans, grains, seeds, etc.
Fruits are generally eaten as a side, dessert, or snack.
Pears are a culinary fruit because of their sweet, soft tissue surrounding a seed-filled core. They’re typically consumed whole as a midday snack or sliced and served with a meal. You can also poach them and serve with ice cream for dessert.
In the culinary world, vegetables are the parts of plants generally eaten with main dishes, in green salads, or as appetizers. Because what people eat varies by culture, the line between vegetable and fruit can be blurred. Generally though, vegetables are used in more savory dishes.
I have yet to find a culture that classifies pears as a vegetable in the context of food, but there is such a thing called the vegetable pear which is used in dishes as a vegetable.
What About Vegetable Pears?
Chayote, also known as a vegetable pear, looks similar to a pear with a mouth sewn shut at one end. It’s light green and holds a pear shape.
However, a chayote only shares appearance in common with a traditional pear. Pears belong to the Pyrus genus; chayote’s the Sechium genus.
They’re totally different. The chayote is considered a gourd.
Botanically, gourds are fruits, but the chayote is used as a vegetable in food contexts. It is not sweet or tart. People chop it for salads and sauté it in stir-fries.
Pyrus pears from the Rosaceae family are classified as fruit to botanists and cooks alike.
Pears satisfy the botanical requirements of a fruit because they form a flower’s reproductive organs. They also fill a fruit’s role in cuisine by how they’re eaten- as a side, snack, or dessert.
Related Reading: Do Pear Trees Lose Their Leaves? 5 Key Causes & Preventions
Buy pear trees online (link to Nature Hills Nursery)