Nut lovers rejoice because April is National Pecan Month. Do you say pee-KAHN, pick-ahn, PEE-can, or PEE-kahn? However you pronounce it, this rich, buttery nut of the month is worth cracking. Pecan nuts are buttery in consistency yet pleasantly sweet in taste.
Pecans are one of the popular edible tree-nuts known to American aborigines since centuries ago. As the only major tree nut growing naturally in North America, the pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species. The name “pecan” is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
Pecans are enriched with many health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. Nutrient-dense pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins, and zinc. One ounce of pecans provides 10 percent of the recommended Daily Value for fiber. Pecans are also a natural, high-quality source of protein that contain very few carbohydrates and no cholesterol. They are also naturally sodium-free, making them an excellent choice for those on a salt- or sodium-restricted diet. Pecans contain mainly unsaturated, heart-healthy fat.
A 1-ounce serving of pecans (approximately 20 halves) contains 196 calories. Fat accounts for 171 calories, carbohydrates contribute 15 calories, and proteins provide the remaining 10 calories.
These nuts are relatively calorie-dense and you should consider their calorie content when planning your daily meals. Nut calories can add up quickly, so substitute nuts for treats such as potato chips or candy bars. You might find that nuts leave you feeling satisfied longer than other foods because of their protein, fiber, and fat content.
When selecting whole pecans in the shell, look for shells without signs of cracks or holes. When shaken, the nuts should not rattle, as this suggests that they are shriveled. Shelled pecan nutmeats should look plump, with no signs of shriveling or wrinkling, and be uniform in color and size.
In-shell pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place for six to 12 months. Shelled pecans stored at room temperature will remain fresh for only about 2 months; in the refrigerator, they may be kept for about 9 months; and in the freezer, they will remain in good condition for up to two years. Pecans should be kept under refrigeration to best preserve their fresh color, aroma, and flavor. If frozen, pecans can be thawed and refrozen repeatedly during the two-year freezing period without loss of flavor or texture.
Pecans may be toasted in the oven, on the stovetop, or in the microwave.
Oven Method: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the shelled nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cook the nuts for about 10 minutes. Check them often to prevent burning. You may also want to stir and flip the nuts at the half way mark on time, to make sure that all nuts are heating evenly.
Stovetop Method: Heat a large frying pan on medium-high heat on the stovetop. When the pan is hot, add a single layer of shelled nuts. Stir frequently with a spatula until the nuts turn golden brown and smell nutty. Remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto a cool plate to stop them from cooking further.
Microwave Method: Spread a single layer of shelled nuts on a microwave safe plate. Cook them in 1-minute intervals on full power, until the nuts have a crisp crunch, toasted flavor, and have become fragrant.
Raw pecans can be eaten alone, salted or sweetened. In savory dishes, pecans can lend a burst of rich, buttery flavor. Some cooks like to candy pecans and sprinkle them on salads or pastas, especially in combination with rich cheeses like Gorgonzola and blue cheese. Top off pumpkin, squash, or tomato soup with roasted, chopped pecans. Add chopped pecans to rice dishes. They really add flavor to pilaf and brown and wild rice. When seasoning breadcrumbs for coating fish or chicken, add finely chopped pecans to the mix. Make pecans a part of breakfast. Sprinkle them on cold or hot cereal, pancakes, or waffles. Stir pecans in unsweetened applesauce. The pecan also has a long history as a dessert nut, and appears in candies, pies, muffins, quick breads, cakes, and ice creams. The nuts are also used to make pecan nut butter, which is popular spread over bread, toast, etc.
Healthy Protein Source
Nuts, like pecans, are considered part of the protein food group – the purple section on the MyPlate. If you eat one ounce of pecans, it’s the protein equivalent of two ounces of lean meat, a little more than one-third of the daily five 1/2 ounces recommended for someone consuming 2,000 calories a day. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, suggests 2 to 2-1/2 ounces of nuts, seeds, and soy products a week.
Pecans are a versatile tree nut. They can be eaten alone – raw, roasted, or flavored – as a healthy, delicious snack or they can enhance almost any recipe as an ingredient. Go nuts and enjoy pecans!