The Power of Pecans: Whether you call ’em PEE-can or PEH-kahn, they are one of the most sought after nuts around the globe. A cousin of the walnut, pecans are the only major tree nut native to North America.
People love pecans for their versatility: They add a sweet, nutty goodness to breads and cereals, stuffing and spreads, salads and side dishes, entrees and desserts. At the same time, they bring a lot of nutrition to the table.
Pecans contain healthy, monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, as well as antioxidants that support heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing the good cholesterol, HDL. A trial involving twenty-three people with high cholesterol showed that eating 72 grams of pecans (almost 3/4 cup) a day decreased their total cholesterol by 7 percent, LDL by 10 percent, triglycerides by 11 percent, and increased HDL by 6 percent beyond that seen in people following the National Cholesterol Education Program’s step 1 diet for reducing cholesterol.
In other research, pecans were shown to help improve insulin, insulin resistance and beta cell function, compared to a standard diet. Improvements in these factors can be protective against developing cardiovascular disease and Type-2 diabetes.
Pecans can also:
- Support healthy digestion and colon health, thanks to being packed with fiber, found mostly in their outer skins.
- Contribute to a healthy body weight and even help people lose weight, in part due to their ability to satiate in relatively small amounts.
Additionally, pecans provide a good source of vitamins and minerals that support overall health, including B-vitamins, magnesium, manganese, vitamins E and A, zinc, iron, and folate.
You can see why the American Pecan Council recently came out with a new logo that says: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.” They certainly have a lot of good to offer.
Your family can enjoy the natural, nutty sweetness of pecans as a snack (plain or roasted), sprinkled over yogurt or oatmeal, or sautéed with savory seasonings such as curry powder, sea salt, or paprika. Consider baking with pecans—from cookies to cheesecake and even homemade ice cream.
When purchasing pecans, fresh is best and organic is even better. Look for pecans in the bulk foods section at a grocer that regularly “turns the stock.” Shaking unshelled pecans is a way to find out how fresh they are–if they rattle, they’re no longer fresh.
Store pecans, and all nuts, in an airtight package away from heat, preferably in the fridge to retain nutrient content.
Pecan Nut Butter
It’s sweet. It’s nutty. And it’s oh so good. If you haven’t yet had pecan nut butter, you have to give it a try. The key to exceptional nut butter is the quality of the nut.
Choose the fresh nuts stored in bulk and rotated frequently. Refrigerated, organic nuts are ideal. Toasted pecans blended with a food processor turn out scrumptiously smooth with maple undertones, without any added oil. A pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon enrich the flavor. Try it on your favorite breakfast bread or whole grain crackers, or smoothe pecan butter over sliced apple.
Recipe yields 1 cup.
- 8 ounces (about 2 cups) high-quality pecans, either whole or in pieces
- Sea salt, to taste
- Dash of ground cinnamon (optional)
- Pour the pecans into a large skillet and toast, stirring often, over medium heat until fragrant (don’t let them burn!). This will take about 4 to 8 minutes.
- Pour the toasted pecans into a food processor or high-speed blender and let them cool for several minutes. Then blend the pecans, pausing often to scrape down the sides with a spatula. The mixture will be crumbly at first, but will eventually blend into super-creamy goodness. Be careful not to let the mixture get too hot, which seems to cause oil separation. You might have to stop and let the mixture/machine cool down for a bit just to be safe. The amount of blending time required depends on your machine- an older food processor might take ten to fifteen minutes to turn the pecans into pecan butter, while fancy Blendtec or Vitamix blenders can turn it into butter in a minute or two.
- Add a pinch of sea salt and a dash of cinnamon (if using). Blend again, taste, and add more salt or cinnamon if needed.
- Pour into a small jar, seal it with a lid, and store it in the refrigerator for good measure. This pecan butter will keep well, refrigerated, for up to one month or so – obviously, don’t eat it if you see or smell any signs that it has gone bad.