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Pecans- Everything You Need To Know

Pecans- Everything You Need To Know

What Are Pecans? 

Like many nuts, pecans are in the middle of an identity crisis because they aren’t really nuts at all! Like pistachios, almonds, and cashews, pecans are a drupe - which means they’re technically a seed. The culinary world calls a wide variety of seeds ‘nuts,’ and it's too late to turn back now - sorry, botanists! 

Where Do Pecans Come From?

Once you learn that pecans are a seed, it seems fitting that they come from a considerable plant such as a tree. The Hickory tree, whose scientific name is Carya illinoinensis, is native to Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana all the way south to Alabama and Mexico, producing delicious pecan nuts each year as a part of its reproductive process. For centuries these wild and native pecan nuts were eaten by foragers and were prized for their nutritious and calorific bounty. Considering their popularity amongst the native population, it’s surprising to learn that the pecan was one of the last nuts to be domesticated and cultivated commercially, with the first commercial orchards not planted in the 17th century. 

What Do Pecan Trees Look Like?

When mature, pecan trees can grow up to 131 feet tall, that’s 40m or as tall as the Statue Of Liberty (without its concrete pedestal). Not only are pecan trees tall, but they’re also broad, and their canopies can reach 75 feet across to span almost 23 meters. It can take as long as 15 years for a pecan tree to start bearing fruit if grown from seed, so many growers use grafted trees instead, which can produce fruit in a third of the time. Like other deciduous trees, pecan trees drop their leaves in the fall months, standing bare until the following spring. 

How Are Pecan Nuts Harvested?

Pecan trees produce pecan nuts every year, though they do tend to have on and off years. During on-years, pecan trees provide a bumper harvest, whereas their fruit may be more sparse during off-years. Pecan nuts begin forming after pollination occurs in early April or May, reaching maturity by September. Growers can tell that their pecans are ready by checking to see when the hull or shuck has begun splitting away from the nut. As the hull dries and splits, pecan nuts rain down onto the ground below, where they can be harvested and collected by workers or machinery. In times gone by, all pecan nuts were hand-harvested, but today more growers are turning to mechanical harvesting methods as they are less costly and more efficient. 

Which Countries Produce Pecans?

The United States of America and Mexico are responsible for producing more than 80% of all pecans sold globally! Elsewhere in the world, Peru, Brazil, Australia, Israel, and South Africa also have climates that suit pecan nuts but produce nowhere near the quantity that the US and Mexico do. When pecans were first grown commercially, only the native pecan varieties existed, but this soon started to change as botanists and scientists began creating cultivars bred for special characteristics and resistance to certain diseases. 

Are Pecans Good For You? 

Dietary guidelines from around the world recognize nuts as an important foundation for healthy eating, and the association between diets high in nuts and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease is noted in the Canadian Dietary Guidelines by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and yet we still ask, are pecans healthy? 

What Nutritional Value Do Pecans Provide? 

On a factual level, a one-ounce (28g) serving of shelled pecans contains the following nutrients: 

196 calories 

2.5g of protein 

20.5g of fat 

4g of carbs 

2.7g of fiber 

38% of your daily value for copper 

16% of your daily value for thiamine

12% of your daily value for zinc

8% of your daily value for magnesium 

6% of your daily value for phosphorus 

And 4% of your daily value for iron.

From these values, we can see that pecans are a nutritionally dense food that is primarily constituted of fat but that they are also a good source of protein and fiber. Although we have been raised to see fat as the enemy, it’s essential to recognize that there is a difference between good and bad sources of fat in our diets. Whereas animal fats and the fats found in processed foods are often saturated, plant-based fats, such as those found in pecans, are often polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, known to help lower cholesterol and reduce a person’s risk of heart disease. 

In What Other Ways Are Pecans Healthy?

In addition to being nutritionally dense, pecans are also high in dietary fiber, are a great source of copper, and provide essential thiamine and zinc. Here’s why those nutrients are important. 

Fiber For Fullness

Fiber helps to keep you feeling full, reducing hunger cravings, and helping with weight loss. What’s more, fiber also keeps your digestive system in good health, lowering your risk of constipation and certain types of cancer. 

Copper For Immunity 

Your body may only need a small amount of copper to function, but its importance in the body should not be underestimated, especially with regard to the immune system. A single serving of pecans provides almost 40% of your RDA for copper, which is perhaps why pecans are sometimes nicknamed the immunity nut. 

Thiamine For Energy 

Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is needed by your body to convert carbohydrates into energy. Without sufficient thiamine, you’d feel tired, sluggish, and may also experience problems with your nervous system. 

Zinc For Repair

Zinc is another mineral that is often forgotten about but which performs an important function in the body. As well as helping to build a healthy immune system, zinc is also needed for fertility, growth, and the repair of damaged cells. 

Are Pecans A Good Source Of Antioxidants? 

Antioxidants have become heroes in recent years and have helped to propel many ordinary foods into superfood stardom. 

What Are Antioxidants? 

To fully understand what an antioxidant is, first, we need to take a look at free radicals. Free radicals aren’t nice guys and can cause damage to DNA. Free radicals are harmful because they are unstable, meaning that they are on the hunt to steal or donate an extra electron from or to another atom. Our bodies are exposed to free radicals constantly because they are a natural byproduct of our metabolic process, and we also come into contact with them through toxins, chemicals, and pollutants. Over time, exposure to free radicals increases a person's chance of DNA damage, cell mutation, and ultimately cancer, and so it is beneficial to do everything you can to avoid them. 

How Do Antioxidants Help?

The good news is, some free radicals such as those that exist by smoking, drinking alcohol, or coming into contact with pollutants, can be avoided by reducing exposure to these substances. But for those that are a byproduct of our metabolism, we can only combat them by eating antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that prevent free radicals from forming. They’re often found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which is why a plant-based diet is considered to be so healthy. One of the most well-known antioxidants is vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that is actually a group of eight fat-soluble compounds - four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. 

Foods That Are Rich In Antioxidants 

If all this talk of free radicals has worried you, then don’t panic. Antioxidants are abundant in the foods we eat; here are a few of the best plant-based sources of antioxidants. 

  • Spices
  • Spices such as cinnamon and cloves are full of antioxidants. Although you may not eat a lot of them in a serving, adding a sprinkle to your dishes is always beneficial.

  • Blackberries 
  • Blackberries contain the most antioxidants of all the berries, followed by blueberries, goji berries, and raspberries. 

  • Sunflower Seeds 
  • Sunflower seeds are another great source of antioxidants, as are pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds.

  • Walnuts
  • Walnuts are the king of antioxidants within the nut family, but all nuts are great sources of antioxidants.  

  • Pecans
  • Pecans take second place as the second most antioxidant-rich nut, with pistachios coming in third and chestnuts fourth.

  • Dark Chocolate
  • If you love a bit of chocolate, then you’ll be pleased to hear that dark chocolate (over 70%) contains more antioxidants in a serving than berries and almost as many as the antioxidant king - walnuts. 

    What Happens If You Eat Pecans Regularly?

    Eating pecans on a regular basis is associated with several fantastic health benefits, including weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease, improved metabolism, and higher antioxidant levels. 

    Pecans Can Help You To Lose Weight 

    When it comes to healthy weight loss snacks, despite their high-calorie content, nuts are always a great choice. Nutritionally dense and packed with protein and fiber, nuts help to keep you feeling satisfied and full, which can ultimately reduce the amount you eat. 

    Pecans Can Improve Your Metabolism 

    A slow metabolism can make it harder to lose weight. Although pecans may not be able to fix all metabolic problems, they can help to ensure that you are consuming enough copper, a mineral needed in over 50 metabolic reactions! 

    Pecans Can Increase Your Antioxidant Levels

    Finally, as we have just learned, pecans are a wonderful source of antioxidants which can help to protect the body against damaging free radicals. 

    Are Walnuts Better Than Pecans?

    Some people aren’t satisfied that all nuts are healthy and want to find the most nutritious nut of them all! The two most common nuts placed head to head are pecans and walnuts - perhaps because they look alike? Here at Ayoub’s, we think it’s best to eat a variety of nuts for maximum benefit, but we’re also here to help put this argument to bed once and for all, so let’s take a look at how pecans and walnuts square up in terms of calories, fat, protein, fiber vitamins, and minerals.

    Are Pecans More Calorific Than Walnuts? 

    The short answer to this question is yes. So if calories are all you care about, then walnuts are the better nut. A one-ounce serving of pecans contains 196 calories, whereas the same serving of walnuts contains 185 calories - a whole nine calorie difference.  

    Are Walnuts Less Fattening Than Pecans?

    First and foremost, we want to clarify that fat doesn’t make you fat - consuming excess calories does. It doesn’t matter if these calories are from fat or sugar; it’s the calories that cause you to put on excess weight. That being said, we know you want to know which nut contains more fat - and the answer is pecans. Both pecans and walnuts are primarily composed of fat, but pecans contain slightly more with 20.5g of fat per 28g serving as opposed to 18.5g per 28g serving of walnuts. 

    Which Nut Provides More Protein?

    Both walnuts and pecans are considered to be an excellent supplementary protein source, but between the two of them, walnuts have slightly more. A one-ounce serving of walnuts contains 4.3g of protein, whereas pecans contain just 2.5g. 

    Which Nut Will Help You Eat More Fiber?

    In the fight for the most fiber, pecans start to claw back some ground. A one-ounce serving of pecans provides 2.7g of dietary fiber, whereas walnuts only provide 1.9g. Although both of these figures may seem fairly low, every little helps in the fight to eat more fiber. 

    Are Pecans More Nutritious Than Walnuts?

    All in all, both walnuts and pecans have very similar nutritional makeup and even share many of the same vitamins and minerals, making it extremely hard to put a stick between them. If we had to choose a winner, then we’re afraid to say that walnuts would win based on their superior antioxidant level and slightly greater protein value - but that doesn’t mean you should stop eating pecans!

    Where To Buy Quality Pecans 

    If all of this information about health benefits, antioxidants, and nutrients have left you hungry to eat more pecans, then let us help you find some. Although it’s easy to just rely on your local grocery store, the pecans you may find on the shelf may leave you underwhelmed. Here are three better places to try. 

    Buy Pecans Direct From The Grower

    If you live in the US, especially in one of the states that are famous for growing pecans, then the best place to buy pecans is directly from the farmer. Many pecan farming families have set up e-commerce sites to sell their pecans directly to consumers, helping to increase their profits and awareness of their product. Of course, this only really helps those living in the US as most growers do not offer shipping to Canada or the rest of the world.

    Check Out Pecans On Amazon 

    Amazon has quickly become a go-to for virtually any ingredient - including pecans! A quick Amazon search reveals pages of pecans and pecan products, including some name brands. At a time when it can be hard to get outside, ordering online is becoming the new norm; just be sure to read plenty of customer reviews and to place a small order first before you buy anything in bulk. 

    Visit Us At Ayoub’s Dried Fruits And Nuts

    If you’re local to one of our stores in Canada or are a customer from the US, then, of course, you should also take a look at our pecans here at Ayoub’s Dried Fruits and Nuts. At Ayoub’s, we focus on quality and therefore buy our pecan nuts from California, where orchards are often smaller, and a superior quality pecan can be found. We stock raw shelled peanuts perfect for pecan pie but also stock glazed pecans, which are a treat all in themselves. Fresh and delicious, you only need to read the reviews of our pecans on our web store to see how good they really are. 

    Four Reasons Why Ayoubs Is Great For Pecans 

    Not yet convinced? Here are just four reasons why people love our pecans!

    We Always Deliver Quality 

    In today's fast-paced world, many grocery stores focus on profit above the quality of the foods they sell. This has led to pecan growers breeding cultivars of pecans that are ready to harvest more quickly or which grow to unnatural sizes, all at the expense of the flavor of their pecans. At Ayoub’s, we don’t play into this mass market and instead source our pecans from smaller orchards in California, which still produce higher quality pecans. 

    We Still Hand Roast Our Nuts In Our Stores

    When Chef Ayoub first started hand roasting nuts in his store in the early 1980’s no one expected the tradition to continue all the way to 2021! Today, we’re proud to still hand roast our nuts in-store every day, delivering the aroma that makes our stores so special and the flavor that keeps our customers coming back for more.

    You Might Discover Something Other Than Pecans! 

    With dozens of different nuts and seeds as well as delectable dried fruit adorning our shelves, you may struggle to leave our store with only pecans. We love to introduce our customers to something new, so why not pop by and let us tempt you with some of the other healthy snacks we have on offer.

    You Can Buy Online

    Last but not least, another thing that sets Ayoub’s apart from the rest is our thriving web-store, allowing customers from all over Canada and the US to order healthy snacks to their door. Whether you need a pound or ten pounds of nuts, we’ve got you covered. 

    Correctly Storing Your Pecans At home 

    It’s obvious to store certain foods in the fridge and others in the pantry - but what about your nuts? Pecans like walnuts have a high oil content, which means they’re susceptible to going rancid. If you’ve ever had a rancid nut before then, you’ll know that it’s not a pleasant experience and one which you will want to avoid wherever possible. 

    How To Stop Your Pecans From Going Rancid

    Nuts go rancid when they are exposed to light, air, and heat, which cause their oils to oxidize and change into short-chain aldehydes and ketones. These aldehydes and ketones smell and taste foul, giving rancid nuts their distinct flavor and aroma. If light, air, and heat are the enemy of nuts, then the key to storing them to prevent them from going rancid is to place them in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight and somewhere cool - like the cupboard! Storing your nuts in this way will usually keep them fresh for about a month. If you can’t eat your nuts quick enough, then you also have the option to store them in the fridge or even in the freezer, which can extend their life considerably. In the fridge, when stored in an airtight container, pecans can last easily for nine months, and in the freezer, they can theoretically last forever! 

    How To Tell If Your Pecans Have Gone Rancid?

    It’s very easy to tell when a nut has gone rancid, and pecans are no exception. The two key indicators to look out for are a foul smell and a bitter taste. If in doubt - throw them out and replace them with a fresh batch that has been stored correctly. 

    Does This Change For Pecans In Their Shells?

    The above information only applies to shelled pecans because pecans in their shells are already protected by their hard casing. So long as their shells are not broken, whole pecans can last for around six months before they start to go bad, but even the smallest crack or hole in their armor can accelerate this. If you have a large number of whole pecans that you wish to store, then it’s often best to stick some in the fridge and some in the freezer to help them last longer.

    Three Tasty Pecan Recipes That You Can Try At Home

    Although we think that pecans are delicious on their own, it has to be said that they are delicious in a number of sweet treats and desserts. Here are three of our favorite pecan recipes that will certainly help to satisfy any sweet cravings you may have. 

    Perfect Pecan Pie

    Could we really write a post dedicated to pecans and not give you a pecan pie recipe? A favorite holiday dessert in the US but loved all over the world, here’s an easy pecan pie recipe.

    Ingredients For Your Pecan Pie 

    1 ¼ cups of chopped pecans 

    1 ¾ cups of brown sugar 

    ¼ cup of corn syrup 

    ¼ cup of butter 

    1 tablespoon of cold water 

    2 tablespoons of cornstarch 

    3 free-range eggs 

    1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

    ¼ teaspoon of salt 

    1 nine-inch unbaked pie shell (or you could make your own first)

    How To Make Your Pecan Pie

    Before you begin, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (or 175 degrees celsius). 

    To stop the cornstarch from going lumpy, add it to your water in a small bowl or mug and mix it into a slurry. 

    Next, make your pie filling by adding your sugar, corn syrup, and butter to a saucepan, followed by the cornstarch and water mixture. This needs to be brought to a boil and then taken off the heat. 

    While your sugar is heating up, beat the eggs in a bowl until they are foamy. 

    Don’t add your syrup mix to the eggs right away as it will scramble them; allow it to cool slightly, and then pour it in. 

    Once combined with the eggs, add in your vanilla, salt, and pecans and give one final stir before pouring into your pie shell. 

    Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the filling has set.

    Top Tip
    For a prettier finished pie, why not add some candied pecans to the top? Or swap out the pecan pieces for pecan halves and arrange them decoratively in the pie shell. 

    Candied Pecans

    We love candied pecans and sell a similar version known as glazed pecans in our stores. Here’s how to make candied pecans - perfect for topping your pecan pie or simply eating by the handful!

    Ingredients For Candied Pecans

    1 cup of white or brown sugar 

    1 egg white

    1 tablespoon of water 

    450g (1lb) of pecan halves 

    1 teaspoon of cinnamon 

    1 teaspoon of salt 

    How To Make Candied Pecans

    Start by bringing your oven up to temperature -  250 degrees F, or 120 celsius. 

    Next, simply mix your sugar, cinnamon, and salt together and set aside. 

    In a larger bowl, beat the egg white with your water until it is frothy, and then toss in the pecan halves and your sugar-cinnamon mix. 

    Give everything a thorough stir to coat the pecans evenly before spreading them on a lined baking sheet. 

    Bake for approximately one hour until crisp, turning every 15 minutes to prevent them from burning. 

    Top Tip

    If you want this recipe to be vegan, then swap out the egg white for another coating ingredient such as maple syrup. 

    Pecan Pie Nut Butter

    If there’s one recipe you must try from this list, then it's this pecan pie flavored nut butter. Perfect on toast or spread onto apple slices, this nut butter is divine! 

    Ingredients For Pecan Pie Nut Butter

    3 cups of pecan pieces (or chopped up pecan halves)

    ½ teaspoon of cinnamon 

    1/4teaspoon of salt 

    2 tablespoons of maple syrup or any sweetener of your choice

    How To Make Pecan Pie Nut Butter

    Although you can make this nut butter with raw nuts, we recommend toasting them first to give them a nuttier flavor. 

    To toast your pecans, simply place your pecan pieces onto a baking tray and roast at 250 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. (Toasting your pecans also helps them to blend more smoothly into smooth nut butter.) 

    Once toasted, add your pecans to a food processor and start to pulse them into a powder. 

    Then slowly, increase the blend time, scraping down the sides as you go until your pecan powder starts to form a pecan butter. This can take a little patience, but it’s worth it!

    Once blended, add in your flavorings, in this case, cinnamon, salt, and maple syrup, and give one final whiz to combine.  

    Transfer the nut butter to a container, ensuring to lick the spoon, and store in the fridge for up to a month.

    Top Tip 

    If you like crunchy nut butter, try adding some chopped pecans when you add in your seasonings. 

    To round off this informative guide to pecans, we thought we’d leave you with 10 fascinating facts to wow your friends and family - which is your favorite?

    10 Fascinating Facts About Pecans 

    Pecans Have A Long History

    Pecans may have been domesticated quite late compared to other nuts, but they were still being eaten long ago by natives. Nutritious and plentiful, pecans were an essential part of the native diet and grew wild across Northern Mexico and the Southern United States. 

    Pecans Are Seeds

    If you really want to start a conversation, tell someone that pecans are seeds and not nuts, and see what they say. Almonds, pistachios, cashews, and pecans are all examples of seeds masquerading as nuts, and peanuts are technically a legume! 

    Pecans Were Planted Commercially In The 1880s

    It wasn’t until 1880 that pecan trees were first planted as a commercial crop - this is quite late, considering walnut cultivation can be traced back beyond the 12th century. 

    Pecan Trees Live For 300 Years

    Pecan trees can live very long lives, producing pecan nuts for over 300 years! 

    Pecan Trees Are Deciduous 

    Pecan trees lose their leaves every fall, which makes them deciduous. If they kept their leaves all year round like the conifer or pine tree, then they would be known as an evergreen. 

    Pecan Trees Are Also Grown For Wood

    Aside from producing delicious pecans, pecan trees are also grown for their wood. Pecan wood is a beautiful color and is also used to smoke meat. 

    Pecans Are More Than 72% Fat

    Pecans are high-fat nuts and are more than 72% fat. Although that may sound scary, most of the fat found in pecan nuts is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, meaning that it is good for your heart health. 

    The US Is The Largest Pecan Producer

    The United States produces more than 80% of all pecans in the world, dominating the market. The remaining 20% of pecan production comes from countries such as Peru, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, and Australia. 

    Pecan Trees Don’t Produce Pecans Every Year

    Pecan trees can be picky about when they produce pecan nuts. Some pecan cultivars only produce pecans every other year, having off-years in between to conserve energy or if reproductive conditions are not right. 

    The Average Pecan Pie Contains 78 Pecans 

    We’re not sure who counted them, but did you know that the average pecan pie is said to contain 78 pecans - that’s a lot of pecan nuts.

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