Pecans 101

Food, Hometown Cooking
on April 9, 2012

If you think all nuts are the same, you are in for a nice surprise. Pecans are an especially delicious, versatile and healthful nut that you should be eating — as long as you’re not allergic to nuts. Find out everything you need to know in this session of “Pecans 101.”

Pecan history. The history of the pecan is a long one. Pecans have been traced all the way back to the 16th century, states the National Pecan Shellers Association. Pecans are native to Central and Eastern North America and Mexico’s river valleys. The ease with which pecans are shelled, combined with their delicious flavor, made the pecan a popular source of food. Pecans were eventually exported all over the world for everyone to enjoy.

Eating pecans. Once shelled, you can eat pecans right away, toast them and use them in cooking. Pecans are so unbelievably versatile you can put them in almost anything you like to eat. Toasted pecans make great salad toppers. Candied pecans can be eaten by the fistful. Pecans can be added to baked goods like brownies, cakes and fudge. More unusual methods of eating pecans are pecan-crusted fish and chicken, where the nuts are ground fine and used as a breading. If you wish to enhance a boring veggie side dish, simply chop and toast pecans, and then toss with the cooked vegetables.

Healthy pecans. Pecans are so healthful you shouldn’t wait for a holiday or special occasion to enjoy them. While they might be a bit biased, the National Pecan Shellers Association cites many possible health benefits. Possible benefits include:

  • Antioxidant power — Pecans are chock full of vitamin E, also known as tocopherols. Additionally, these powerful nuts contain phenolic substances with antioxidant abilities to prevent free radical damage. The "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" states that pecans are among the highest rated nuts, and of all foods, in antioxidant capacity.
  • Cholesterol control — The January 2011 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition" reports that the naturally occurring antioxidants in pecans may contribute to heart health and the prevention of heart disease.
  • Brain support — The Center for Cellular Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell reports that pecans may delay the progression of age-related motor neuron disease.
  • Heart healthy — Pecans are composed of many vitamins and minerals. The fats in pecans are the good fats that can manage and even lower cholesterol. About 60 percent of the fats in pecans are monounsaturated and 30 percent are polyunsaturated.