Pecans
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The Pecan Tree (Carya illinoinensis) is a member of the Hickory family and grows in South & Central North America. Since 1919, it has been the state tree of Texas.

The Pecan Nut is not actually a true tree Nut but instead the seed of a drupe fruit (a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk) and what we call a Culinary Nut because it is thought of and treated like a nut in the kitchen.

Production

Before Westerners came to the New World, Pecans were an important part of the native foraging and subsistence culture. In fact, the word "Pecan" comes to English from an Algonquian word that means “a nut requiring a stone to crack.”  Europeans first learned of Pecans in the 1500’s, when Spanish conquistadores came across them in Louisiana, Texas and Mexico. Though the Pecan tree family “carya” does not exist in old Europe, the Pecan was similar enough to a Walnut Tree that the Spanish called the trees  “Nogales” (“Walnut Tree” in Spanish) and the Pecan Nuts “Nueces” (“walnut fruit” in Spanish).

Starting in the 1500’s, the Pecan Nut was exported to Europe, Asia, and Africa on Spanish Galleons. Pecan’s were not imported to the U.S. because they were a native species here. Thomas Jefferson grew Pecan Nuts (Illinois Nuts) at Monticello, the “little mountain.” Jefferson gave some to George Washington who in turn grew them at Mount Vernon.

Large commercial crops of Pecans got a late start. Pecans were not grown as an organized crop until almost into the 20th Century (1880’s). Today, the U.S. produces almost all of the globe’s Pecans (80% to 95%) from 10 million trees producing 200,000 tons of Pecan Nuts in the fall. Pecan trees can live and produce Pecan Nuts for300 years or more. Most Pecans grown today come from the older cultivars, such as 'Stuart', 'Schley', 'Desirable', which have some known flaws but which also have known production potential. Pecan Trees are a 32-chromosome species and they can create hybrids such as the “hican” (Hickory Nut & Pecan Nut).

There are 500 species of Pecan Trees. The Elliot, Desirable, Cape Fear, Shley, Stuart, and Summer varieties are the most common in the United States.

A well-maintained Pecan orchard can produce up to 1,000 Lbs (454 kg) of nuts a year.

Georgia is the leading Pecan Nut growing state in the union. Texas is the second largest producer and home to the Texas Pecan Festival in Groves, Texas.

Pecan Nuts are also grown in Brazil, China, Australia, Israel, Peru, Mexico, and South Africa.

Purchasing

When purchasing Pecan Nuts look for plump nuts that are uniform in color and size. Buying Pecans at the peak of harvest season from mid-October to November is the best way to purchase the best product at the best price because the Pecans are plentiful.

Storage

Pecans Nuts will be either in the shell or Pecan halves out of the shell. Because of their high fat content they can easily become Rancid.

In the shell Pecans can be stored for up to 1 year in a cool dark place or for 2 years in the freezer. Pecans do not contain a lot of water so they can be frozen, thawed and refrozen many times. The Pecans should be sealed in an airtight container such as a glass jar, ziploc bag or Tupperware in either place.

Out of the shell, Pecan Nuts can be stored in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.

Culinary Uses

To be used Pecan Nuts must first be cracked. Crack Pecan Nuts more easily so you don’t lose too much meat, by pouring Boiling water over the Pecans. Let them steep tightly covered for 6 to 7 minutes to soften the shells. When the shells are softened, use a Nut Cracker to crack the shells. The Pecan Nuts should come out of the shell whole which will actually mean two Pecan halves.

Pecan Nuts are edible Raw with a rich, buttery taste. They can also be cooked as Roasted Pecans, cooked by Smoking, and cooked by Baking.

Pecans can be Tossed into Green Salads or Bound Salads, sprinkled on Grits or Porridge and used in savory recipes such as Pecan Basil PestoBacon Wrapped FigsPecan Crusted Fish, or Pecan Cheese CrispsPecan Oil and Pecan Flour are also useful in the kitchen.

Pecan Nuts are well used for making Desserts. Pecan Pie is a familiar and fabulous Pecan dessert. Smart Kitchen’s Pecan Pie Recipe can be found by following the link. Praline candies and Pecan Cinnamon Rolls are two more of our Pecan favorites.  We have even heard of a Pecan Beer that comes from the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Mississippi.

Nutritional Value USDA
PECANS
Amount Per 100g
Calories 691
%Daily Value*
 
109%
Total Fat 71g
4%
Saturated Fat 6g
Polyunsaturated Fat 21g
Monounsaturated Fat 40g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 0mg
8%
Potassium 410mg
4%
Total Carbohydrate 13g
36%
Dietary Fiber 9g
Sugars 3g
Protein 9g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Here is the first part of the nutrition story about Pecans. They are 70% Fat. The second part of the story is that they are very low in cholesterol because they are 90% Unsaturated Fat. Pecans are also a source of Protein (9%), VitaminsMinerals and Antioxidants. Pecans are 2.2% Dietary Fiber.

Pecans contain 19 vitamins and minerals. Pecan Nuts are rich in Vitamin AVitamin B-1ThiamineFolic Acid, and Vitamin E. Pecans also contain the minerals PotassiumPhosphorusMagnesiumSeleniumZinc and Calcium.  

There has also been a large amount of research into other potential benefits of eating a handful of Pecans a day (1 to 1.5 oz.). For example, one animal study by the Center for Cellular Neurobiology at the U. Mass suggests that adding Pecans to the diet may delay the onset and progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration, most often seen in diseases such as amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The Vitamin E contained in Pecans, and/or plant sterols, may be responsible for the result.

Antioxidants are another beneficial component of Pecans, which contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E—known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities. Pecans are particularly rich in a form of Vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. Eating Pecans has been shown to double the gamma-tocopherol levels in the body while lowering the bad cholesterol LDL by up to 33% after consumption.   A 2006 study from Loma Linda University also found that consumption of Pecans significantly reduced lipid oxidation.  A September 2001 publication of clinical research in the Journal of Nutrition described a Pecan-enriched diet lowering total cholesterol by 11.3% including lowering bad LDL cholesterol by 16.5%.

In fact, based on the studies and research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following qualified health claim: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

There is also a line of thought that believes that eating Nuts, like Pecans, may aid in weight loss and weight maintenance by increasing metabolic rates and enhance satiety. The added palatability and texture may also lead to an improved ability to comply with a healthier diet.

Allergies

There are a number of people who are allergic to Pecan Nuts and can experience symptoms ranging from a rash to deadly anaphylaxis. Always be careful to alert your diners to the presence of Pecans in your cooking. Being overly communicative is much better than being silent in this potentially fatal area.

It is also important to be aware that people with Pecan allergies may also be allergic to Nuts, such as HazelnutsChestnuts, and Acorns, or to other Culinary Nuts such as AlmondsCashewsWalnuts and Peanuts. Because of the likelihood of dual allergies, it is typical to advise people with Pecan allergies to avoid eating all nuts.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No