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This Chinese fruit may be the ugliest and sweetest thing you’ll ever taste

IF THERE WAS A list of “ugly speciality foods”, China’s frozen pears would probably be at the top of it. They have black peel, a hard texture, and freeze your hands. They look like small grenades. But wait till you taste them!

Could you make them in your fridge? No. Domestic freezers don’t get cold enough to make the magic happen.

Frozen pears.

Harbin, the famous “ice city” in China, has been the place to be, in recent times – and especially this year. Since the first snow fell in China in the Year of the Rabbit, Harbin(哈爾濱), the northeastern provincial capital, has become the most popular winter tourist attraction. ,

During the recent Spring Festival, Harbin received a total of 10.093 million tourists, with total tourism revenue of 16.42 billion yuan (about 2.3 billion US dollars). Harbin, a city that fell asleep for decades, has woken up and is making money. And now that the depressed streets and alleys of Harbin are becoming more prosperous, a northeastern “winter only” speciality has also become popular.

Saint Sofia Cathedral is one of famous historic architectures in Harbin. Image: Public domain.


Among the many varieties of pears, Northeasterners usually choose autumn pears with a sour and astringent taste as the raw material for frozen pears. Wash the pears, wipe the skin, and put them outside on the balcony for freezing. After a night of freezing, the pear peel turns from light yellow into black. Many people from other parts of the country will refuse to try frozen pears because of the black peel, but in fact they contain no harmful substances. The low temperature destroys the cell structure in the pears, breaking down the separation between enzymes and phenols, and the phenols oxidise and brown, making the pears as black as a grenade.

However, wait until it has thawed for 15 minutes or so, and the sweet, juicy flavour will make you forget its ugly appearance.

Image: Public domain.


When the sugar in pears is frozen at low temperatures, about minus 20 to 30 degrees Celsius, the total acid content decreases, while the soluble solids and total sugar content increase. Thus the frozen pears are much sweeter than common autumn pears. Some southerners want to make frozen pears using refrigerators at home but fail. Domestic freezers are mostly about minus 18 degrees Celsius, not as cold as the outdoor temperatures of Northeast China.

Apart from frozen pears, there are many other kinds of frozen fruits sold in the market,

As for tenderness, because during the process of freezing the liquid in the pulp cells will freeze and swell until the cell structure is destroyed, after thawing it becomes unusually juicy. That’s why people who take a big bite of a frozen pear for the first time will get a wet shirtfront.


Northeast locals will tell you three procedures to thoroughly enjoy a frozen pear. First, thaw the frozen pear in a basin of cold water for about 15 minutes. You can use this time to eat your meal. By the time you have finished eating, the pears will have appropriately thawed and a thin layer of ice will have formed on the outside of the pears.

Frozen pears are served as a starter or appetizer. Image: Public domain

Gently crack the ice and take a small bite out of the skin, sucking the juice from the flesh before peeling back the skin to savour the delicate flesh. Interestingly, people can often have another meal after eating a frozen pear. Thus in many restaurants, frozen pears are served as a starter or appetizer.

Frozen pear “sashimi” cater to the eating costume of southerners.

Actually, China’s northern custom of eating frozen pears can be traced back at least a thousand years. The Khitan people in the Liao Dynasty (遼代), which ran from AD 916 to 1125, had the habit of eating frozen pears. Pang Yuanying (龐元英) of the Northern Song Dynasty(北宋) recorded in the “Wenchang Miscellany”(《文昌雜記》) that “Pears cannot be eaten directly when they are just frozen. Yelv Yun(耶律筠), a Khitan official, took cold water and soaked the frozen pears, and after a while a layer of ice formed on the outer skin. After cracking the ice, the flesh of the pear was found to have ‘melted’.”

But some old traditions have to be set aside to cater for visitors from far away. After Harbin became a top winter tourist destination, local restaurants deliberately cut thawed frozen pears into small pieces or thin slices to cater to the eating habits of southerners, causing widespread “dissatisfaction” among northeasterners, who posted a message on the Internet: “Harbin, you’ve changed and made me feel strange. “

Image at the top from Javi Woo/Unsplash

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