Texans go nuts over pecans

All over Texas, meals end with a pecan pie. I’m here to give you several wonderful reasons to indulge in that pie to offset the fretting over the calories.

Pecans are nutritious! Studies have shown a handful of pecans every day may play a role in protecting the nervous system, and may delay the progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration.  In June 2004, the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported on research that ranked pecans highest among all nuts and among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity. This means that pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  A study published in The Journal of Nutrition in September 2001, found that pecans can double the cholesterol-lowering effectiveness of a traditional heart-healthy diet.  Packed with more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc, pecans are high in fiber, a high-quality source of protein and are naturally sodium-free. It’s starting to seem like pecan pie for breakfast isn’t such a reckless choice after all.

Pecans are local! The pecan is unique because it is the only major tree nut that is native to North America. Also, the native pecan itself is still important commercially, which is not true of other horticultural crops (most crops now are exclusively improved varieties not the native form.)  The pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species today. The United States produces about 80 percent of the world’s pecans, which is between 300 and 400 million pounds annually. Texas usually ranks second nationally in pecan production with approximately 60 million pounds valued at over $87 million. Obviously, Texans consume a fair portion of pecan pie annually, but markets are growing in China, India and Germany. Pecans are grown in 231 of the state’s 254 counties by 3,600 producers, on almost 92,000 acres. This year we have seen an exceptional crop of pecans, so it’s a great time to support this important Texas product.

Pecans are tied to the rich cultural heritage of Texas! On his deathbed, Governor James Hogg requested a pecan tree be placed at his grave rather than a tombstone. As the story goes, he wished for the nuts to be given out to make Texas “a land of trees.”  This is said to have influenced this decision to make the pecan our state tree in 1919. And, in 2001 the pecan was adopted as the state health nut: third slice of pie, anyone? Even today, native pecans are found growing wild along rivers. The tree is also widely used for shade and can be found on many courthouse lawns in Texas, including our own Denton County Courthouse-On-The-Square. The name pecan is from Algonquin origin meaning “nuts requiring a stone to crack.” Now days, the many different pronunciations of pecan can be a fun topic of conversation and study in regional differences. A final tip for the transplanted Texans, “puh-kahn” is typically used over “pee-can.” We certainly don’t want any mistranslations on that.

Janet Laminack is a Denton County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Educational programs conducted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.

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