When you’re thinking about tasty, hand-picked nuts for snacking, one of the first that often comes to mind is the pecan. Pecans have been around for centuries, and their popularity has only been growing ever since. Even better, they’re loaded with nutritional goodness that makes them as healthful as they are satisfying. Read on to learn more about the sweet nut, its origins, its benefits, and how to make sure you get the most out of your pecans.
What Exactly Are Pecans?
Pecans are the nuts of one particular variety of hickory tree, found predominantly in the southeastern United States. While the trees can grow to impressive heights of over 125 feet, their most notable feature is likely their thick, brown shells that cover the sweet nut itself.
Though it’s easy to think of pecans as an American-only nut, it wouldn’t be accurate. Due to their popularity, many countries from Mexico to South Africa have begun cultivating pecan trees outside of the US, where the nut can be tasted year round.
What about their taste? Well, pecans have a unique flavor that comes from its sweet and oily composition. It’s a flavor often likened to that of a baking spice, with subtle notes of cinnamon and butter. Taste-wise, pecans can be enjoyed on their own or paired with other ingredients in desserts, salads, and more.
Health Benefits of Pecans
When it comes to being a healthy snack, few nuts compare to the pecan. These little morsels contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are known to reduce both cholesterol and inflammation. They’re also an excellent source of protein and fiber, helping you feel fuller longer.
In terms of vitamins and minerals, pecans are, in a word, amazing. They contain a robust suite of vitamins, including vitamin A and K, as well as essential minerals, like zinc and magnesium. Each of these contributes to a healthy body, providing antioxidants, helping with neurotransmitter function, and ensuring bone strength.
If you’re eager to add some of this nutrient-packed nut to your diet, you’ll be happy to know that you have plenty of options. You can buy raw, unshelled pecans (the most natural option) or pre-shelled pre-roasted, unsalted, and salted versions. The latter are all great, especially if you’re looking to get the most out of your pecans in terms of taste and texture.
Once you’ve chosen whether you want shelled or unshelled, you can use the pecans to make a number of dishes. Salads, pancakes, muffins, or even just a snack by themselves are all excellent choices, as are cookies, cobblers, and pies. With a little creative energy, you can enjoy pecans in whatever way you’d like.
Finally, if you’re looking for the most authentic flavor of a pecan, consider making your own pecan butter. Pecan butter is made by crushing finely chopped pecans into a paste, which can then be spread on toast or used as an ingredient in a variety of dishes. It’s an easy way to bring out the delicious taste of the nut, without having to break the shells open.
The Bottom Line
Pecans is a tasty and nutritious snack, whether eaten whole or made into a buttery spread. Its sweet and oily flavor works well as an ingredient in a variety of desserts and dishes, and its health benefits mean that it’s more than just a treat. So why not grab a handful of pecans the next time you reach for a snack– you won’t be disappointed.
Pecans: From Tree to Dinner Plate
Pecans are among the most beloved staples of the American diet, appearing in dishes both sweet and savory. But few people understand the complex journey a pecan must take before it reaches a dinner plate. In this blog post, we will explore the scientific journey of a pecan, from tree to table.
First, we must understand where pecans come from. Pecans are the edible fruit of the Carya illinoinensis, commonly known as the pecan tree. The pecan tree is native to North America and is cultivated all over the United States. The Carya illinoinensis typically grows as a large, spreading tree and lives for an average of 150 years. The outer bark of the tree’s trunk is a grayish-brown color, with diamond-shaped furrows that become increasingly shallow at the base of the tree. The leaves of the pecan tree are bright green and are alternately arranged along the branches.
Pecan trees produce male flowers, called catkins, in clusters of two or three. The catkins contain staminate flowers, which produce pollen. The female flowers, called inflorescences, are also produced in clusters of two or three; they encase in their tiny cups the future pecan nut.
The next step in the journey of the pecan is its maturation. After pollination, the catkins wither and die, while the female flowers dry up into the familiar nut. A typical pecan tree will produce nuts between the months of October and April, with the peak harvest occurring during the November-December period.
Harvesting pecans requires careful management. For hand-harvesting, mature pecans are shaken from the trees, either with a long pole or by shakers mounted on wooden carts. For mechanical harvesting, commercially available machinery can be used to separate the nuts from the husks. Because pecans mature at different rates, machines must be specifically adjusted to allow for a range of nut sizes.
Once harvested, the pecans typically travel to a processing facility, where the nuts are inspected and graded. The grading process includes: separating the eggs from the gherkins, sorting pecans by size and weight, and separating out any blown or infested nuts. During the inspection process, the pecans are exposed to ultraviolet light to detect any fungal infections and subjected to a propionic acid fumigation, to kill any insect pests.
The sorted pecans are then placed into burlap sacks or cardboard boxes, depending on the quantity being shipped, and then stored in temperature-controlled warehouses. The pecans are left to sit and ripen, during which time they shed their outer hulls, called shuckers.
Following the ripening process, the pecans are transported to a facility for shelling and packaging. After cleaning and drying, the shucked pecans are separated into their different grades and levels of purity. The pecans are then transported to packaging lines, where automated equipment packages them into consumer-ready containers.
From there, the pecans can be sent to supermarkets or specialty stores, or sold online. As with other nut varieties, pecans should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place for maximum shelf life.
But of course, the ultimate destination of a pecan is the dinner plate. Pecans can be added to a variety of dishes both sweet and savory, from salads to desserts and beyond. Pecans are a rich source of healthy fats and dietary fiber, and contain trace minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. For these reasons, they are a fantastic choice for those looking to increase their intake of leafy green vegetables, fresh fruits, and nuts.
Whether used in a nutritious trail mix or as a crunchy topping on a salad, the pecan is undoubtedly one of America’s most beloved snacks. After travelling such a long journey, it’s no wonder it has so thoroughly embedded itself in the hearts of so many.
|Vitamin A||0.003 mg|
|Vitamin E||0.0014 grams|
|Vitamin K||0.0035 mg|
|Vitamin C||0.0011 grams|
|Vitamin B1||0.66 mg|
|Vitamin B2||0.13 mg|
|Vitamin B3||0.00117 grams|
|Vitamin B4||0.0405 grams|
|Vitamin B5||0.86 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.21 mg|
|Vitamin B9||0.022 mg|
Daily Value 1.3 g
Daily Value 0.018 g
Daily Value 0.4 g
Daily Value 1.25 g
Daily Value 4.7 g
Daily Value 0.011 g
Daily Value 0.9 mg
Daily Value 0.0023 g
Daily Value 0.055 mg
Daily Value 0.004 mg
|Aspartic Acid||0.929 grams|
|Glutamic Acid||1.829 grams|
|Total Sugars||0.131141 grams||
|Palmitic acid (16:0)||4.37 grams||
|Stearic acid (18:0)||1.75 grams||
|Arachidic acid (20:0)||0.07 grams||
|Total Saturated fatty acids:||6.19 g|
|Oleic acid (18:1)||40.59 grams||
|Gadoleic acid (20:1)||0.21 grams||
|Total Monounsaturated fatty acids:||40.8 g|
|Linolenic acid (18:3)||0.99 grams||
|Linoleic acid (18:2)||20.63 grams||
|Total Polyunsaturated fatty acids:||21.62 g|
|Total Sterols:||0.13 g|