Pecans: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Explore the health benefits, history, and culinary uses of pecans, a nutrient-rich nut native to North America, and learn how to store and incorporate them into various recipes.

What are Pecans?

  • The pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a species of hickory with rough bark and hard but brittle wood with an edible nut and is native to the southern United States and northern Mexico in the region of the Mississippi River .

Are Pecans Good For You?

Pecans are definitely healthy and have many health benefits.

6 Health Benefits Of Pecans

  1. Pecans are a good source of fiber and plant-based protein. One ounce has almost 3 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.
  2. Pecans are a good source of monounsaturated fat. One ounce of pecans has 12 grams of monounsaturated fats.
    1. According to the American Heart Association , ​​monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E to the diet, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of.
  3. Pecans are a good source of copper. One ounce of pecans provides 38% of our daily needs.
    1. Copper is important for ​​nerve cell function, immune health, and the production of red blood cells.
  4. Pecans may help with blood sugar control.
    1. There was a study done where some study participants ate a pecan-rich diet.
      1. A randomized, controlled feeding trial comparing the effects of a pecan-rich diet with a control diet similar in total fat and fiber content, but no nuts. They looked at biomarkers related to CVD and T2DM risk in healthy middle-aged and older overweight adults. After 4 weeks on the pecan-rich diet, the body’s ability to use insulin was improved and the markers for CVD were also improved.
  5. Pecans may help with brain health.
    1. The monounsaturated fats in pecans can help cognition. A study conducted in China found that after consuming at least ⅓ ounce of nuts per day, the participants had improved cognitive function.
  6. The Vitamin E found in pecans is a good source of antioxidants and can help with our immune system.
    1. Getting enough vitamin E is associated with reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration, fatty liver diseases, cataracts, and type 2 diabetes .

History, Background, and General Facts About Pecans

  • The pecan is the only tree nut native to North America.
  • The name “ pecan ” is derived from the Native American (Algonquin) word “pacane” (pacane) that described “nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
  • Native tribes were thought to have used pecans to make a fermented drink called “Powcohicora,” from which the word “hickory” is derived
  • The seed is an edible nut used as a snack and in many recipes, such as praline candy and pecan pie .
  • Pecans were widely consumed and traded by Native Americans.
  • In 1919, the 36th Texas Legislature made the pecan tree the state tree of Texas ; in 2001, the pecan was declared the state's official "health nut", and in 2013, pecan pie was made the state's official pie.
  • The town of San Saba, Texas claims to be "The Pecan Capital of the World" and is the site of the "Mother Tree"
  • Alabama named the pecan the official state nut in 1982.
  • Arkansas adopted it as the official nut in 2009.
  • California adopted it, along with the almond , pistachio , and walnut , as one of four state nuts in 2017.
  • In 1988, Oklahoma enacted an official state meal which included pecan pie.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Pecans?

Pecans are commonly used in various cuisines, particularly those with a focus on American, Southern, and Southwestern flavors. Here are some dishes where pecans are regularly incorporated:

  • The seeds of the pecan are edible , with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking mostly in sweet desserts like pecan pie, a traditional Southern U.S. dish .
  • Butter pecan is also a common flavor in cookies, cakes, and ice creams. Pecans are a major ingredient in American praline candy.
  • Other pecan products include pecan oil and pecan butter.
  • Pecans have to be shelled before using. You can buy them shelled or in the shell. Once removed from their shells, pecans can be eaten raw or roasted.
  • They're often mixed into commercial nut mixes and trail mixes. Chopped pecans can be used in salads, pastas, cheese balls , vegetable dishes, and soups.
  • Pecans are often paired with fresh, cooked, or dried fruits like apples and pears.
  • Pecans can be used whole, chopped, or ground in baked goods; pecan halves are often placed on top of cookies, pies, and cakes as decoration.
  • They can also be candied or spiced and added to ice cream.
  • Pecan milk
  • Pecan wood is used in making furniture and wood flooring, as well as a flavoring fuel for smoking meats , giving grilled foods a sweet and nutty flavor stronger than many fruit woods

What Is The Best Way To Store Pecans?

  • Unshelled pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place for about six months without compromising freshness. Shelled pecans should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer and in an air-tight container.
  • Keep shelled pecans in their original packaging or in a sealed zip-top bag or airtight plastic container. Store the nuts in your refrigerator for about six months or in your freezer for up to two years.

What Are The Different Types Of Pecans?

There are over 500 varieties of pecans, each with its own unique characteristics in terms of flavor, size, and shell thickness. Here are few popular varieties of pecans:

  1. Desirable: The Desirable pecan is a widely grown variety known for its large size, excellent flavor, and thin shell. It has a rich and buttery taste, making it highly desirable for both eating and baking.

  2. Stuart: Stuart pecans are known for their large size and elongated shape. They have a robust flavor and are commonly used in baking and cooking. Stuart pecans have a moderately thick shell, making them relatively easy to crack.

  3. Pawnee: Pawnee pecans are medium-sized with a round shape. They have a good flavor and are known for their high oil content. Pawnee pecans have a thin shell, which makes them relatively easy to crack.

  4. Cape Fear: Cape Fear pecans are medium to large in size and have a distinct oval shape. They have a rich flavor and are often used in both sweet and savory dishes. Cape Fear pecans have a thin shell, which makes them relatively easy to crack.

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Pecans

Pecans should be avoided if you have a tree nut allergy. Pecans are a high-calorie and high-fat food, which is fine in moderation but shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities.