Although we address them as nuts, pecans are not actually nuts. Instead, they’re drupes or fruits that came from a species of hickory. The tree is native to northern Mexico and the southern United States, primarily in Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas.
Pecans first became known to Europeans in the 16th century. But before that, they were widely consumed and traded by the Native Americans. Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to come into contact with pecans. They found it in Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. Then, they took it to Europe, Asia, and Africa, where the nut has been popular since.
Nevertheless, Texas loves pecans. In 1919, the pecan tree became the official state tree. In 2001, the pecan nut became the official state “health nut.” And in 2013, pecan pie became the official state pie. On top of that, the town of San Saba is known to be “The Pecan Capital of the World” and the home of the “Mother Tree.”
Species: C. illinoinensis
Binomial Name: Carya illinoinensis K. Koch
- People pronounce the word “pecan” in many ways, some are regional while the others aren’t. However, the correct pronunciation remains disputed.
- Native Americans made pecan milk for the infants and the elderly; however, they are also the ones who made a fermented intoxicating pecan drink called “powcohicora.”
- The National Pecan Day in the United States is celebrated every April 14th.
- The National Pecan Pie Day in the United States is celebrated every July 12th.
- The city of Okmulgee in Oklahoma is home to the world’s largest pecan pie, pecan cookie, and pecan brownie.
Pecan Buying Guide
Pecans can be easily found in the market, especially during the holiday season. However, there’s a wide array of nut sizes, colors, varieties, and prices available that some consumers find it overwhelming to decide on what to buy. Thus, here are some tips and tricks when buying our beloved pecans:
- If possible, ask the seller if the pecans are from the current year’s crop as this will ensure its freshness. Due to their high-fat content, pecans are prone to oxidation and therefore their flavor and quality deteriorate over time.
- Pecan kernels should have a light to golden brown color. Otherwise, dark kernels indicate that they’re old or are improperly stored.
- Pecan shells should also be brown in color and not close to black. Dark shells also indicate that they’re old or are improperly stored.
- Know that there are over 1,000 varieties of pecans. But, in Texas, you’ll mostly see these few: Western, Desirable, Pawnee, Caddo, Sioux, Kanza, and Forkert. Forkert has thin shells and therefore it can be cracked easily. But, you can also apply this method when choosing pecans based on the variety: crack them by rolling them in between the palms of your hands. Also, feel free to ask the seller about the varieties and choose the ones that best suit your purpose.
- The size of pecans doesn’t have an impact on flavor. Small pecans are usually the nut of choice for cooking since they don’t require further chopping. Plus, they usually cost less yet the flavor is just as good as the large varieties.
- As always, buy from a reputable, trusted, and has a good turnover source to assure the freshness of the product.
Pecan Production & Farming in Texas
The United States is the largest producer of pecans in the world. And, 75% of its total crop is being produced in Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas. Pecan trees can be grown from USDA zones 5 through 9, and thrive best where there are long, hot, and humid summers. Thus, the climate in all areas of Texas is suitable for all pecans. In fact, this state produces around 60 million pounds of pecans each year, from about 70,000 acres worth of native and improved pecan trees that are commercially grown. However, the crops can be damaged by the early fall freezes and late spring frosts. Wichita is the most productive area to grow them. Central and West Texas are also adaptive when it comes to growing pecans. Here, Texas growers usually harvest pecans around the middle of October. But, in the Panhandle and other northern Texas areas, the growers should plant early-harvest varieties to avoid fall freeze injury to maturing pecans.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Pecans are prone to a wide array of diseases, pests, and physiological disorders that can limit the growth of the tree and the production of fruits. These range from scabs to hickory shuck worm and shuck decline. Likewise, they are also susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections such as Pecan scab. Particularly, in humid conditions. Pests like ambrosia beetles, twig girdlers, casebearers, hickory shuck worm, curculio, phylloxera, weevils, and several aphid species also feed on the leaves, stems, and developing nuts. Due to these, pecans are commonly treated with pesticides and/or fungicides.
However, since pecans feature a thick shell, they’re lower on the list when it comes to pesticides. While it’s important to be mindful of the amount of pesticides we consume, nuts in general are not a major source of pesticides in our diet.
On top of that, commercially available pecans mostly don’t contain any additives and chemicals, unless they’re salted and/or seasoned with flavorings.
The United States is the largest producer of pecans in the world, accounting for roughly 75% of global production. It’s then followed by Mexico, accounting for roughly 20% of global production. Canada, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom rank next.
Besides being the leading pecan producer, the United States is also the leading consumer of pecans. In 2016, around 64,900 metric tons of pecans were consumed in the country, which translates to a per capita consumption of 0.2 kg. Thus, the demand is usually higher than the production, forcing the country to import more, especially from Mexico, which is the second-largest exporter of pecans in the world as of 2016.
Pecans usually come in airtight packs and bulk bins. But, you may also see them in either resealable or non-resealable bags, canisters, plastic jars, mason jars, and foil-lined cans.
Although pecan pies are probably the most popular recipes to enjoy pecans, these nuts can also be eaten raw. They make a healthy and delicious snack or a high-protein trail mix. Or, you can top them on leafy greens, fruit salad, chicken, or tuna salads for added crunch. You can also chop these nuts and stir them into a bowl of cinnamon raisin oatmeal or add them to banana bread, muffins, or pancake batters. In Tex-Mex cuisine, pecans are also popular to be added into salsas or guacamole dips.
Pecans are frequently described as a semi-perishable product. Despite this, proper handling and storage techniques should still be used to maintain the nut’s good quality. Otherwise, poor storage conditions will lead to the darkening of the kernel and the rancidity of their oils, thereby destroying the nut’s natural flavor and aroma. Thus, as soon as the pecans fall from the tree, they should be harvested and dried right away to remove the excess moisture. Pecans with over 6% moisture do not store well. Consequently, they should be kept in covered or sealable plastic bags or glass jars, and should then be stored in the refrigerator. In-shell pecans can be left at room temperature, but only for a short period of time. Once the shell has been removed, pecan kernels should be transferred into the refrigerator. The shelf life of pecans varies depending on the temperature. At 70ºF, unshelled pecans will last for 6 months while shelled ones will last from 3 to 4 months. At 45ºF, unshelled pecans will last for 9 months while shelled ones will last for 6 months. At 32ºF, unshelled pecans will last for 18 months while shelled ones will last for 12 months. At 20ºF, unshelled pecans will last for 30 months while shelled ones will last for 18 months. Lastly, at 0ºF, unshelled and shelled pecans will last for 6-8 years.
Cooking pecans has been in existence since time immemorial. Even the shells of pecans are roasted and used as a coffee substitute during WWII. But of course, with all the resources that we have nowadays, your creativity is the only limit when cooking pecans. You can simply roast them in the oven at 400ºF for 10 minutes or until slightly brown. Then you can use them in a lot of ways! You can craft a parfait dish with layers of Greek yogurt, fresh berries, and roasted pecans for a refreshing breakfast or dessert. You can also top them on baked acorn squash and drizzle some maple syrup in it. Or, you can sauté green beans in olive oil and toss some pecans and parmesan cheese.
Pecans are made up of 72% fat, 14% carbohydrates, 9% protein, and 4% water. They do not contain trans fat; instead, the fat content of pecans is mainly monounsaturated fatty acids, which is mainly oleic acid, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is mainly linoleic acid. They’re also rich in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and thiamine, along with moderate sources of iron and B vitamins. But, the best part about pecans is that they contain the highest antioxidant capacity among all the nuts. These antioxidants include vitamin E and they can help lower cholesterol. Moreover, pecans can also promote weight loss. They can also protect the nervous system against neurological diseases.
When Are Pecans in Season in Texas?
To find out when Pecans are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.