The fruit of a tree growing abundantly in the United States, pecan nuts were part of the traditional Native American diet. It is still prized today, especially in pies. Its protein content is relatively low compared to other nuts such as almonds. Fresh pecan is one of the richest in fat, but its content is high in unsaturated fats. It starts to become rancid after a few weeks.
Active ingredients and properties
Weight gain: a myth denied.
Many people tend to reduce their consumption of shelled and oleaginous fruits for fear that their high caloric content will lead to weight gain. However, two extensive reviews of the scientific literature dispel this myth and demonstrate that regular consumption of nuts and oilseeds is not associated with weight gain16,17. This could be explained by incomplete absorption of lipids (nearly 20%) leading to a decrease in energy intake, an increase in satiety, or an increase in metabolism following consumption of these types of fruit.
Shelled fruits (almonds, hazelnuts, etc.) and oleaginous fruits (pecan nuts, walnuts, etc.) in general :
Several epidemiological and clinical studies associate regular consumption of shelled and oleaginous fruits with various health benefits such as a cholesterol-lowering effect1, a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease2 and type 23 diabetes, a decreased risk of gallstones4 and gallbladder ablation5, and a decreased risk of colon cancer in women6. The amount of shelled and oleaginous fruit associated with these benefits is usually equivalent to about five one-ounce (30 g) servings per week.
Pecan nuts benefits
Cardiovascular disease. A study in healthy people showed that adding 68 g of pecan nuts per day to the usual diet lowered blood levels of total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, compared to a control group that did not eat nuts and tree nuts. 7 Another study was conducted in people with normal or moderately deteriorated blood fats who were given a cholesterol-lowering diet. By replacing a small portion of this diet with 72 g (2.5 ounces) of pecan nuts each day, the researchers observed an even greater improvement in the cholesterol-lowering effect. 8 These benefits may be due to the unsaturated fats (“good” fats) in pecan nuts, as well as their fibre and arginine content, an amino acid with potential cardiovascular health benefits. In addition, pecan nuts and all shelled and oleaginous fruits contain phytosterols, a plant compound whose structure resembles cholesterol, but which is believed to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in the body. It is estimated that pecan nuts contain approximately 39 mg of phytosterols per 25 g9 serving. A meta-analysis of 41 clinical trials showed that 2 g of phytosterols per day reduced LDL cholesterol levels by 10%. This reduction could be as high as 20% in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol10. 10 This amount of 2 g per day is virtually impossible to achieve through diet alone. For this reason, products enriched with phytosterols such as margarine have appeared on the market. Even if present in very small quantities, phytosterols naturally present in food remain interesting for cardiovascular health.
Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that reduce the damage caused by free radicals in the body. They are highly reactive molecules that are believed to be involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and other age-related diseases. Pecan is the nut that is believed to contain the most phenolic compounds, about 1650 mg per 100 g. By comparison, blueberries contain 650 mg per 100g18. 18 pecan nuts are also one of the most proanthocyanidin-containing nuts among shelled and oleaginous fruits, with approximately 494 mg per 100 g serving.
Most important nutrients
Excellent Manganese source. Pecan is an excellent source of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor of several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also helps prevent free radical damage.
Excellent source of Copper. Pecan is an excellent source of copper. As a constituent of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (a protein used for tissue structure and repair) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also contribute to the body’s defence against free radicals.
Good Source Zinc. Pecan roasted in oil is a good source of zinc for women and a source for men, as their needs are different. Dehydrated pecan is a source of zinc. Zinc is involved in immune responses, the production of genetic material, taste perception, wound healing and fetal development, among other things. It also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it is involved in the synthesis (manufacture), storage and release of insulin.
Source Phosphorus. Pecan is a source of phosphorus (see our Phosphorus Nutrient List fact sheet). Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it participates in the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps maintain normal blood pH levels. Finally, phosphorus is one of the constituents of cell membranes.
Source Magnesium. Pecan is a source of magnesium. Magnesium is involved in bone development, protein building, enzyme actions, muscle contraction, dental health and immune system function. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and in the transmission of nerve impulses.
Source Iron. Pecan is a source of iron for humans only. Every cell in the body contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells. It also plays a role in the manufacture of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses).
Source Vitamin B1. Pecan is a source of vitamin B1. Also called thiamin, vitamin B1 is part of a coenzyme necessary for the production of energy mainly from the carbohydrates we ingest. It also participates in the transmission of nerve impulses and promotes normal growth.
Source Vitamin E. Pecan roasted in oil is a source of vitamin E. A major antioxidant, vitamin E protects the membrane that surrounds the body’s cells, particularly red and white blood cells (cells of the immune system).
Source Dietary fibre. Pecan is a source of fibre. Dietary fibre, found only in plant products, is a collection of substances that are not digested by the body. In addition to preventing constipation and reducing the risk of colon cancer, a high-fibre diet can help prevent cardiovascular disease, control type 2 diabetes and control appetite12. It is recommended that women between 19 and 50 years of age consume 25 g of fibre per day, and 38 g per day for men in the same age group13.
Allergy to nuts (shelled fruits and oilseeds). In the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) list of major allergens,14 “tree nuts” is used to refer to a combination of tree nuts and oilseeds. However, some people may be specifically allergic to pecan nuts. In addition, one study found that pecan nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts were a group with strongly associated allergies,15 so a person allergic to one of these foods is likely to be allergic to the other two. In addition, peanut allergic individuals are generally advised to also avoid nuts (tree nuts and oilseeds), including pecan nuts, since they also have a high allergenic potential and are often handled and distributed by peanut companies. Symptoms of peanut shell and oilseed allergy can be severe and may lead to anaphylactic shock.
Urinary stones. Some people may be advised to adopt a restricted diet of oxalates to prevent the recurrence of kidney or urinary stones (also called urinary lithiasis). Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds found in many foods, including pecan nuts. It is therefore preferable that these people avoid eating them, as well as other types of shelled and oleaginous fruits.
The pecan over time
The term “pecan” appeared in the French language in 1824, first in Louisiana, where the tree originated. It is derived from pakan, a word belonging to an Algonquian dialect meaning “hard-shelled nut”. Today it tends to be replaced by the Anglicism “pecan” or “pecan nut”, particularly in Europe.
Among the trees yielding an edible fruit, the pecan is the most important species of American origin. At least 8,000 years ago, Native Americans living in what is now Texas were already consuming its nut. Its range extends from the American Midwest to Mexico, where it still grows wild. Native to the alluvial soils of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, it has been dispersed by humans, but also by crows that carry the nut for many miles. These birds may have contributed to the selection of modern thin-shelled varieties, since they prefer these nuts, which are lighter and easier to open.
Introduced to Spain in the 16th century by the conquerors, the pecan tree gradually established itself in several countries with temperate climates. However, it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that grafting pecan trees became commonplace. The production of these grafted trees is much more homogeneous than that of trees from seed. However, even today, in the southern United States and northern Mexico, there are still many orchards with spontaneously growing trees that have not been genetically improved by selecting cultivars meeting specific criteria. Although less productive than modern improved versions, they are nevertheless intensively harvested by local populations.
pecan nuts have the highest fat content of all oil-producing fruits – 70 per cent of their total composition – making them an important staple for subsistence in times of famine.
Choosing the right one
The Basics of Food : Pecan was an essential food source for some Native Americans who lived in its range. In some areas, it was said to be the almost exclusive food supply for two to four months of the year.
In its shell: If the nut makes a noise when shaken, it is not very fresh. It is better not to buy it. The best pecan nuts are those found in the fall, within two to three weeks of harvest.
Shelled: It’s always best to buy oil fruits in their shells, as they go rancid less quickly than shelled ones, but if you must buy shelled pecan nuts, avoid those sold in bulk and choose airtight containers with an expiry date on them.
The oil, which has a delicate flavour, can be found in specialty stores.
As an appetizer: Dip pecan nuts in a marinade of melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and ketchup, drain, place on a metal plate and bake in a 155ºC (310ºF) oven, stirring frequently. Season with salt if desired.
Toss pecan nuts with cumin, cinnamon, ginger and ground cayenne. Heat them in olive oil and butter for about five minutes, then put them in the oven and bake for half an hour, stirring regularly. Salt and serve immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight jar.
Prepare a soup by blending pecan nuts with beef or chicken stock in a blender. Add tomato purée and chopped green onions and cook for half an hour. Bind with egg yolk and cream. Season with a little freshly grated nutmeg.
Poultry or fish in a crust: Dip pieces of poultry or fish fillets in the marinade of your choice, then place on ground pecan nuts and squeeze to coat the nutmeg well. Cook quickly under or on the grill.
Serve roasted pecan nuts with whole grain rice cooked in chicken broth.
On pasta with diced tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of good, flavoured olive oil.
In sauces to accompany poultry, with meat broth, tomatoes, onion, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper. Blend thoroughly in a food processor and coat the poultry with the sauce.
In an Italian-style salad with greens, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. Roast the pecan nuts before adding them to the salad.
In a salad with spinach, grapefruit wedges and raspberry vinegar sauce. Roast the pecan nuts before adding them to the salad.
Serve them roasted with green vegetables such as broccoli.
In stuffings for poultry.
Serve them with cheese and fruit or with watercress and cheese sticks. Season with a balsamic vinegar sauce.
Sprinkle ground pecan nuts over a salad of brie and sliced pears, presented on young greens.
Glazed with maple syrup: cook them for a few minutes in a dry pan, then add a little maple syrup and cook for a few more minutes. Let cool and serve in salads or as a dessert with fruit.
The traditional pecan pie is made by mixing four beaten eggs with 250 ml (1 cup) pecan nuts, 160 ml (2/3 cup) sugar, 80 ml (1/3 cup) melted butter, 250 ml (1 cup) corn syrup, a pinch of cinnamon and salt. Pour the mixture over a pie crust placed in a 22-cm (22-cm) diameter pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes in an oven set at 175ºC (350ºC).
Grind the pecan nuts and include the powder obtained in the preparation of bread, pancakes, waffles, cakes, muffins, etc..
Bake them for a few minutes in a syrup made up of orange juice and sugar and flavoured with orange peel. Let the pecan nuts dry on baking paper (vegetable parchment).
In pralines or dipped in chocolate.
Add them to smoothies, oatmeal or muesli-type cereals.
In addition to being delicious in salads, pecan oil accompanies rice in all its forms and perfumes cakes.
The pecan in its shell will keep for three to six months in a cool, dry place.
Refrigerator: Because of its high content of unsaturated fatty acids, pecan nuts quickly turn rancid when exposed to air. It is therefore preferable to keep pecan nuts that have been peeled in the refrigerator in airtight containers. They can then be kept for up to nine months.
Freezer: They can be frozen in freezer bags, in which case they will keep for two years.
The oil should be kept dark and cool or even refrigerated to delay its rancidity.
Ecology and environment
In Georgia, the owners of an organic pecan farm decided, after consultation with environmentalists, to control a butterfly larva that can cause significant damage to pecan trees, relying on the help of bats. Under conventional management, growers spray insecticides a minimum of six times a year to control this larva. Since insecticides are banned in organic farming, farmers had no choice but to let the larvae do their damage, resulting in a loss of about one-third of annual production. On the farm, “maternity wards” were built to accommodate up to 2,000 bats each. Within a short time, the owners saw the populations of the unwanted butterfly decrease considerably.
Bats are in fact excellent predators against all kinds of nocturnal insects, especially mosquitoes, which they can consume at a rate of 1,000 per hour. For this reason, bat farms have been set up on the outskirts of Calcutta to control the insects that are ubiquitous in the city and pose a threat of malaria to the human population.