Pecans are one of the most popular nuts in the world, and yet, they aren’t really nuts at all! In fact, many of the foods that we consider to be nuts, including almonds, pistachios, and cashews, are actually seeds because they don’t technically fall into the nut category as outlined by botanists. So why do we call these foods nuts? Well, the truth is, we do so because it’s convenient, and it would be a bit confusing to recategorize virtually all of the foods that we know as nuts as either seeds or legumes at this stage! So, with that out of the way, what are pecans? Let’s take a look.
What Are Pecan Nuts?
Pecan nuts are the seed of the hickory tree, also known as Carya illinoinensis, which is native to Mexico and the southern United States. Healthy, delicious, and incredibly nutritious, pecans have been foraged and eaten for centuries but were not domesticated and cultivated until the 17th century, when the first plantations were established in Mexico.
Where Are Pecan Nuts Grown Today?
Today, Mexico and several of the southern United States, primarily New Mexico, Texas, and Georgia, are responsible for producing more than 80% of all the pecans consumed globally, with the remaining 20% of production coming from Peru, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, and Australia. Initially, pecan farmers simply grew their native pecan variety; however, to maximize yield and profitability, in the 19th-century, botanists began to focus on producing cultivars of the native pecan tree that could deliver more pecan nuts, withstand regional temperature differences and survive common diseases such as Pecan Scab.
What Do Pecan Trees Look Like?
The pecan tree is a large tree and can grow up to 131 feet (40m) tall! Their trunks can grow to be up to 6ft wide, and their canopies to 75ft across in good conditions. If you were to grow a pecan tree yourself by planting a pecan seed, then it could take up to 15 years for your pecan plant to produce its first fruit; however, if you don’t fancy waiting this long, then this time can be dramatically shortened if you bought a grafted tree instead, which should bear you fruit in just three to four years.
How Are Pecan Nuts Harvested?
When pecan nuts are ready to be harvested, they naturally start to fall from the tree. This process usually happens just before the pecan tree drops its leaves in the Fall, and so most pecan harvests occur between September and November. Pecan nuts are harvested in one of two ways; they are either picked up from the ground by hand or picked up by a machine. Whereas once, all pecans were harvested by hand, because of labor costs and workers’ availability, more and more pecan growers are turning to mechanical harvesting methods.
So there you have it! A quick introduction to pecans, including what they are, their identity as a seed and not a true nut, their origin, and how they are grown. To find out more interesting facts about pecans, check out this post.