Nut of the Week – Pecans

February 21, 2012 at 9:54 AM | Posted in diabetes, diabetes friendly, Food, low calorie, low carb, nuts | Leave a comment
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The pecan is a species of hickory, native to south-central North America, in Mexicofrom Coahuila south to Jalisco and Veracruz, in

A large pecan tree in downtown Abilene, Texas

the United States from southern Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana east to western Kentucky, southwestern Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and western Tennessee, south through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Florida, and west into New Mexico.

“Pecan” is from an Algonquian word, meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack.

The pecan tree is a large deciduous tree, growing to 66–130 ft in height, rarely to144 ft; taller trees to 160–180 ft have been claimed but not verified. It typically has a spread of 39–75 ft with a trunk up to 6.6 ft diameter. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 16 ft tall. The leaves are alternate, 12–18 in long, and pinnate with 9–17 leaflets, each leaflet 2.0–4.7 in long and  0.79–2.4 in broad. The flowers are wind-pollinated, and monoecious, with staminate and pistillate catkins on the same tree; the male catkins are pendulous, up to 7.1 in long; the female catkins are small, with three to six flowers clustered together.

A pecan, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. The husks are produced from the exocarp tissue of the flower, while the part known as the nut develops from the endocarp and contains the seed. The nut itself is dark brown, oval to oblong, 1.0–2.4 in long and 0.59–1.2 in broad. The outer husk is 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

Ripe pecan nuts on tree

thin-shelled nut.

The nuts of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts, but also in some savory dishes. One of the most common desserts with the pecan as a central ingredient is the pecan pie, a traditional southern U.S. recipe. Pecans are also a major ingredient in praline candy, most often associated with New Orleans.

In addition to the pecan nut, the wood is also used in making furniture and wood flooring, as well as flavoring fuel for smoking meats.

Pecans were one of the most recently domesticated major crops. Although wild pecans were well-known among the colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s. Today, the U.S. produces between 80% and 95% of the world’s pecans, with an annual crop of 150–200 thousand tons  from more than 10 million trees. The nut harvest for growers is typically around mid-October. Historically, the leading pecan-producing state in the U.S. has been Georgia, followed by Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma; they are also grown in Arizona, South Carolina and Hawaii. Outside the United States, pecans are grown in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru and South Africa. They can be grown approximately from USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, provided summers are also hot and humid.

Pecan trees may live and bear edible nuts for more than 300 years. They are mostly self-incompatible, because most cultivars, being clones derived from wild trees, show incomplete dichogamy. Generally, two or more trees of different cultivars must be present to pollinate each other.

Pecans are a good source of protein and unsaturated fats. Like walnuts (which pecans resemble), pecans are rich in omega-6 fatty

Pecans with and without shells

acids, although pecans contain about half as much omega-6 as walnuts.

A diet rich in nuts can lower the risk of gallstones in women. The antioxidants and plant sterols found in pecans reduce high cholesterol by reducing the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

Clinical research published in the Journal of Nutrition (September 2001) found that eating about a handful of pecans each day may help lower cholesterol levels similar to what is often seen with cholesterol-lowering medications. Research conducted at the University of Georgia has also confirmed that pecans contain plant sterols, which are known for their cholesterol-lowering ability. Pecans may also play a role in neurological health. Eating pecans daily may delay age-related muscle nerve degeneration, according to a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts and published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research.

The Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company from Kiln, Mississippi has produced a variety of beer using pecans rather than hops.

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