There may not be agreement between “pee-can” or “pi-con,” around the country, but there’s no contesting the popularity of this nut. A favorite in desserts like pralines and pecan pie, the nutrient dense pecan is a treat all on its own.
A true American nut, pecans first took root in North America, where they were a highly valued food source of Native Americans and the first colonists back in the 16th century. Its name comes from the Algonquin Indian word “pacane,” which means a nut that must be cracked with a stone.
The pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is part of the walnut and hickory family. Pecan trees can grow over 100 feet tall and live more than 1,000 years. The U.S. produces about 80 percent of the world’s supply, in 15 U.S. states, including Alabama and Texas. Pecans are plump with more than 19 vitamins and minerals, from vitamin A to potassium. A one-ounce serving — about 19 halves — packs 64 percent percent DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories per day) of bone-protecting manganese, 17 percent DV of copper for healthy metabolism, and 11 percent DV of satiating dietary fiber.
Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, pecans increased resting energy expenditure in people with pre-diabetes, which may assist in weight loss, to help prevent the progression of Type 2 diabetes (The FASEB Journal, 2017). Pecans also contain proanthocyanadins (important plant compounds), which may help slow dietary carbohydrate and fat absorption to help prevent obesity and diabetes (Journal of Functional Foods, 2017). And, eating five or more servings a week of nuts, like pecans, may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2017).
The finer points
Typically harvested October through December, pecans are available year-round. Choose nuts that are heavy for their size and free from cracks or discoloration. Store up to three months at room temperature, six months refrigerated, and a year frozen. Add raw or roasted (400 F oven for 10 minutes) pecans to spinach salad, cinnamon-sprinkled whole grain cereal, or squash; bake into zucchini bread, or mix into a wholesome trail mix with dried fruit and nuts.