Jump To Section
What Is a Pecan?
Pecans are a brown, edible tree nut with a rich, buttery flavor. Pecans grow on a type of hickory tree (scientifically categorized as Carya illinoinensis), and have a green outer husk that turns brown as they mature. Pecans are sold at grocery stores, usually as pecan halves, but they can sometimes be found in-husk.
Where Do Pecans Grow?
Pecans grow on pecan trees, a type of hickory that is a large shade tree which can reach up to 130 feet (or 40 meters) tall. Pecan trees have deep root systems and grow best in rich soil and full sun. Pecans are native to North America and thrive in areas where the summers are hot and humid, especially Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and northern Mexico.
There are many different varieties of pecan tree, including the Cape Fear, Elliot, and Desirable varieties, and while each tree’s pecans vary only slightly in size, the trees differ in the amount of time it takes for their nuts to reach maturity, the number of pecans they produce, and how resistant they are to common diseases.
How Do You Pronounce “Pecan”?
The word pecan has a variety of pronunciations across the United States, from PEE-can to pee-CAN to pih-CAN to pick-AHN. The different pronunciations stem from the nut’s history of being traded across different languages and cultures. The oldest-known consumers of pecans, the Algonquin peoples, had many names for the nut, including pagan, paga, and pa’kan. When Spanish and French traders borrowed the word, the name became pacana or pacane. However, even during this time, their references to the nut were rarely consistently spelled or pronounced—and as the nut spread further, the pronunciation of pecan became even more varied.
The two most common pronunciations of pecan today are PEE-can and pick-AHN, and both are difficult to tie to a particular region or dialect.
How to Cook With Pecans
Pecans are a very versatile nut in the kitchen, especially popular to use in pastries and other desserts. Pecans are commonly enjoyed a number of ways:
- Pecan pie. Arguably the most well-known use of pecans in the kitchen is pecan pie, which is made with chopped pecans, syrup, and eggs in the batter, and then topped with pecan halves. Pecan pie is a traditional American dessert with origins in the South. Try our pecan pie recipe here.
- Praline candy. Praline candy, like pecan pie, is another traditional Southern treat. It is made by simmering pecans, sugar, and cream together and letting them stand until firm.
- Butter pecan ice cream. Pecan is a popular flavor of ice cream, and pecan ice cream often includes chopped pecans mixed in to give an added crunch.
- Pastries and baked goods. Pecans are commonly used in many other pastries and baked goods, including sweet buns, cakes, and fudge.
- Poultry and seafood. Pecan-crusted chicken or fish is a great way to add a crispy outer layer to tender meat.
- Green salad. Pecans can be tossed—whole or chopped—with any green salad to add a crunchy texture. Pecans pair well with sweet flavors, so they are especially popular in salads that include strawberries, dried cherries, or other sweet fruits.
- Chicken salad. Pecans are a great way to give chicken salad texture, even if using cashews is more traditional.
- Snacks. Pecans are enjoyed as a snack, either raw, roasted, salted, or candied.
Are Pecans Healthy? 4 Health Benefits of Pecans
Think Like a Pro
Learn techniques for cooking vegetables and eggs and making pastas from scratch from the award-winning chef and proprietor of The French Laundry.View Class
Eating pecans can offer a variety of health benefits. Pecans are filled with healthy fats, fatty acids, and vitamins. Just one serving size of pecans (around one ounce) has been found to be a good source of:
- Monounsaturated fatty acids. Pecans have the highest monounsaturated fat content (primarily oleic acid, which makes up 57% of their total fat) of any nut. These fatty acids are recommended as the healthiest fats because they contribute to heart health, regulate cholesterol levels, and regulate blood sugar. Monounsaturated fats help you feel full where other types of fats won’t.
- Antioxidants. Pecans are high in antioxidants, including vitamin E, vitamin A, and beta-carotene, which promote strong heart health and lower risks for many diseases (including heart disease).
- Dietary fiber. Pecans are a rich source of dietary fiber, which contributes to gastrointestinal health.
- Other vitamins. Pecans are high in vitamin B6 and vitamin C, which all help the body process protein, carbs, and fat, and repair tissue.
Become a better chef with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by culinary masters, including Dominique Ansel, Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay, Alice Waters, and more.