Delicious, buttery yet rich-flavored pecans are one of the popular edible tree-nuts known to American aborigines since centuries ago. They are enriched with many health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
Pecan is a very large sized deciduous tree belonging to the member of hickory family, Juglandaceae. The tree is native to central and southern parts of the United States of America. Today, however, it is being cultivated in many regions of the world as an important commercial tree-nuts crop. Scientific name: Carya illinoinensis.
|Raw pecans. Note for oblong, gray-brown color thin-shelled nuts.||Pecan kernel.
Several cultivars of pecans exist; some of the highly recommended species include Cape fear, Elliott and Moreland.
During each spring season, pecan tree bears catkins, consisting of clustes of monoecious flowers arranged closely along a central stem that ultimately develops into fruits by autumn.
|Pecan nut enveloped by involucres.
(Photo courtesy by cleopold).
|Pecan tree-Large sized deciduous tree, recognized as "Texas state tree."|
Pecan nuts, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, are not true nuts but botanically fruits (drupe).
Each fruit features dark-brown, oval to oblong shape, measuring 1 to 3 inches long and 0.5–1 inch broad. Its rough, outer husk or involucre is 3-4 mm thick. The husk splits off into four sections at maturity to release an edible kernel lying inside. Pecans are generally harvested from October through December. Raw nuts are then subjected to dehydration, the process which is essential to remove moisture and to improve their keeping quality.
Pecan nuts are rich source of energy, carry 690 calories/100 g and contain health benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins that are essential for wellness.
The nuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid and an excellent source of phenolic antioxidants. Regular addition of pecan nuts in the diet helps to decrease total as well as LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increases HDL or “good cholesterol” levels in the blood. Research studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in dietary-fiber, mono-unsaturated fatty acids, and antioxidants would help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
Pecan nuts are rich source of many phyto-chemical substances that may contribute to their overall antioxidant activity, including polyphenolic antioxidant ellagic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein and zea-xanthin. Research studies have been suggestive of that these compounds help the body remove toxic oxygen-free radicals and thus, protect the body from diseases, cancers, as well as infections.
Anti-proliferative properties of ellagic acid is because of its ability to inhibit DNA binding of certain carcinogens such as nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, thus, offering protection to human body from cancers.
Pecans are an excellent source of vitamin-E, especially rich in gamma-tocopherol; provide about 25 g per 100 g. Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
The nuts are very rich sources of several important B-complex groups of vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and folates. Together, these vitamins work as co-factors for the enzyme metabolism inside the human body.
The nuts are also rich source of minerals like manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
Add a hand full of pecan nuts in your diet to keep your diet meter complete with sufficient levels of minerals, vitamins, and protein.
San Saba County in central Texas hold the reputation of "pecans capital of the world". Pecans can be available in the markets year around. In the store, however, you might come across shelled, unshelled, salted, sweetened, etc. Try to buy whole “un-shelled” or “with shell” nuts instead of processed ones. They are generally available in airtight packs as well as in bulk bins.
Look for the nuts that feature off white color, healthy-looking, compact, uniform in size and feel heavy in hand. They should be free from cracks (other than the natural split), molds, and spots and free from rancid smell.
Raw whole pecan nuts are generally cut open at the processing units using a larger sheller machines. Smaller nut-sheller machine or hand held pliers usually are being used for domestic purposes.
Unshelled pecans can be placed in cool dry place for many months, whereas shelled (without the shell) kernels (nuts) should be placed inside an airtight container and kept inside the refrigerator to avoid them turn rancid.
Raw pecans, like in walnuts, can be eaten either alone, salted or sweetened.
Pecan nuts are buttery in consistency yet pleasantly sweet in taste. High fat content in them makes them wonderful additions in the preparations of delicious recipes like pecan caramel puddles, pie, fudge, baklava, and muffins.
The nuts are often sprinkled over desserts, particularly sundaes, and bourbon ice creams.
They are widely used in the confectionery, as an addition to biscuits, sweets, and cakes.
The nuts are also used to make pecan nut-butter, which is popular spread over bread, toast, etc.
Pecans allergy is a type-1 (Ig-E mediated) hypersensitivity response in some people to food substances prepared with these nuts. In general, the allergic reaction may be more commonly encountered in people with history of prior exposure to the tree pollen and, thereby, developed antibodies. (Medical disclaimer).
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