Pecans are one of the most popular edible nuts native to North America and Mexico.
The history of pecans can be traced back to the 16th century.
The only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America, the pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species.
Originating in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico, pecans were widely used by pre-colonial residents.
Pecans first became known to Europeans in the 16th century. The first Europeans to come into contact with pecans were Spanish explorers in what is now Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico.
Although wild pecans were well known among native and colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s.
The name “pecan” is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
Pecan trees may live and bear edible nuts for more than 300 years.
The pecan tree is a large deciduous tree, growing to 20–40 m (66–131 ft) in height, rarely to 44 m (144 ft). It typically has a spread of 12–23 m (39–75 ft) with a trunk up to 2 m (6.6 ft) diameter.
The leaves are alternate, 30–45 cm (12–18 in) long, and pinnate with 9–17 leaflets, each leaflet 5–12 cm (2–4.7 in) long and 2–6 cm (0.8–2.4 in) broad.
Pecan trees have both male and female flowers on the same tree that are wind pollinated. The male flowers form hanging catkins [photo below]; the female flowers are arranged in tight clusters at the ends of the shoots.
A pecan, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. The husk itself is aeneous, that is, brassy greenish-gold in color, oval to oblong in shape, 2.6–6 cm (1–2.4 in) long and 1.5–3 cm (0.6–1.2 in) broad. The outer husk is 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) thick, starts out green and turns brown at maturity, at which time it splits off in four sections to release the thin-shelled seed.
The seeds of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor.
The pecan may be eaten raw, sweetened or salted. It is widely used in pastries, such as coffee cakes, and often in conjunction with chocolate. In the southeastern United States the pecan pie, consisting of pecans baked in a clear custard, and the pecan praline candy are traditional sweets. Pecans are also a major ingredient in praline candy.
Pecans are among the most nutritious of all nuts. There are 691 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of pecans.
Pecans contain protein, fiber, amino acids, fats, starch and sugars. They also contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc.
Some of the health benefits of pecans include reduced risk of high cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes, gallstone disease and cancer. It has antioxidant properties and helps in weight management. It is also helpful in protecting the nervous system and may delay the progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration, such as diseases like ALS.
There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans and many are named for Native American Indian tribes (Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee). About 20 are in commercial use.
The United States produces more than 80 percent of the world’s pecans.
Outside the United States, pecans are grown in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa.
The world’s largest pecan nursery is located in Lumberton, Mississippi.
There are about 78 pecans used in every pecan pie!
In 1920 commercial shelling equipment brought unshelled pecans to consumers for the first time.
Pecans were one of the most recently domesticated major crops.
Because wild pecans were readily available, many Native American tribes in the U.S. and Mexico used the wild pecan as a major food source during autumn.
In addition to the pecan nut, the wood is also used in making furniture, in hardwood flooring, as well as flavoring fuel for smoking meats.
In 1919, the 36th Texas Legislature made the pecan tree the state tree of Texas where the town of San Saba claims to be “The Pecan Capital of the World.” Several other American towns and regions host annual events celebrating the pecan harvest.
n 1995, Georgia pecan wood was selected by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to make the handles of the torches for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. These pecan-wood made torches were carried in the relays which took the torches from Athens, Greece to the United States, then all around the country, culminating with the lighting of the Olympic flame in Atlanta on July 19, 1996.
Astronauts took pecans to the moon in two Apollo space missions.