Pecans, botanical name Carya illinoinensis, are a hickory species, which is indigenous to the south-central regions of North America.

Pecan trees are generally huge trees that are deciduous and grow up to a height of about anything between 20 meters to 40 meters (approximately 66 feet to 130 feet), but hardly seen growing beyond 44 meters (144 feet). However, people have claimed to have seen pecan trees growing as high as 50 meters to 55 meters (about 160 feet to 180 feet), such claims have never been substantiated. The pecan trees produce alternate leaves that are about 30 cm to 45 cm (12 inches to 18 inches) in length. In addition, the leaves are pinnate having about nine to 17 leaflets arranged on either side of the common stalk and each leaflet is about 5 cm to 12 cm (2.0 inches to 4.7 inches) in length and 2 cm to 6 cm (0.79 inch to 2.4 inches) in width.

The flowers of pecan trees are pollinated by wind and the same tree bears both male and female flowers (monoecious) having staminate plus pistillate catkins. The male catkins have a drooping form and grow up to a maximum of 18 cm (about 7.1 inches) in length, while the female catkins are diminutive having anything between three to six flowers bunched as one.

Similar to the fruits of the other species belonging to the genus hickory, a pecan is also not a genuine nut, but, technically speaking, it is actually a drupe - any fruit having a solitary pit or stone that is encircled by a casing. The exocarp tissues of the pecan flowers create such casings or husks. The portion of the fruit which is called the nut actually grows from the endocarp and encloses the seed. The fruit of the pecan tree has an oval or elongated and rounded shape that grows up to a length of 1 inch to 3 inches and is generally 0.5 inch to 1 inch in width. The fruits have a deep brown hue and a coarse husk that is about 3 mm to 4 mm thick. When the fruit ripens, the husk ruptures into four parts to set free a nut having a slender shell. Usually, the pecans are collected during the period between October and December and subsequently, the raw nuts are dehydrated. It is essential to put the raw pecans through a dehydration process with a view to get rid of the moisture as well as to enhance the storage quality of the nuts.

Pecans are edible nuts having an intense butter-like essence. The nuts of the pecan tree may be consumed fresh or also employed in cooking different delicacies, especially sweet dessert courses. People in the southern regions of the United States prepare a traditional very familiar recipe - a common dessert called pecan pie, wherein pecans form the principal ingredient. In addition, praline candy, a familiar recipe of New Orleans, also contains pecan as a key ingredient.

Besides the edible nut, the timber of pecan trees is also valuable and is employed for making furniture as well as constructing wooden floors. In addition, the wood of pecan tree is also used in the form of a flavouring fuel to smoke meats.

The nuts of the pecan trees are also nourishing, as they are packed with several valuable nutrients. The fact that pecans are nourishing and offer several health benefits has been undisputed ever since people discovered that these nuts are edible. Latest studies regarding the genuinely delectable pecans have revealed that they contain high amounts of antioxidants, so much so that it is recommended that taking a serving of pecans every day is beneficial because they help us to prevent falling ill or keeping off several diseases. The best aspect regarding consumption of pecans is that these nuts are useful in avoiding heart ailments, reducing the blood cholesterol levels as well as helping us in keeping away from developing the deadly disease called cancer. Chemical analysis of the nuts has revealed that pecans are packed with a cluster of nutrients present in plants and called phytochemicals, including flavonoids, sterols as well as various sulfur amalgams.

It is worth mentioning here that till date several studies as well as clinical trials have been undertaken by botanists and scientists to find out the health benefits offered by pecans. In effects, researchers and scientists who have been conducting such studies are primarily concentrating on the nutritional aspects as well as worth of the nuts obtained from the pecan trees. As of now, plenty of researches have been undertaken to ascertain the health benefits offered by pecans and all scientists and researchers who have been conducting these studies have concurred as well as come to the conclusion that the nuts of the pecan trees possess very less carbohydrates and contain adequate amounts of polyunsaturated fats, which are useful in lowering the levels of low-density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol, also known as 'bad cholesterol', in the bloodstream. At the same time, pecans have a rich content of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), which is valuable for rejuvenating the heart cells. In addition, pecans are also an excellent source of several essential minerals, such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc as well as selenium.

Health benefits of pecans

As mentioned above, pecans are loaded with various nutrients and offer several health benefits, especially effective in losing weight. In fact, people who desire to lose additional flab will find pecan to be an excellent alternative, as consuming pecans enhances metabolism, which, in turn, helps to lose weight. In addition, pecans are also loaded with dietary fiber as well as fats that are healthy for our heart. These heart-healthy fats make us feel fullness and, thereby, put off eating more than what is required by the body.

Besides helping us to lose weight, pecans are also effective in lowering the blood pressure. Consumption of pecans that are not salted has the aptitude to bring down high blood pressure, as they contain high intensity of fats that are good for the heart as well as magnesium.

Pecans are helpful in maintaining the health of your heart, as they enclose a substance called beta-sitosterol or phytosterol - a natural compound having the aptitude to lessen the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol in the bloodstream and, thereby, diminish the possibility of having a heart attack. Besides, pecans also enclose a comparatively elevated intensity of vitamin E, a nutrient that is healthy for the cardiovascular system and also helps to lessen the chances of developing coronary heart ailments and heart attacks. The nuts obtained from the pecan tree are also loaded with monounsaturated as well as polyunsaturated fats - both useful for sustaining the health of your heart.

People suffering from prostate problems will also find consumption of pecans beneficial, as this nut is healthy for your prostate. As aforementioned, pecans enclose beta-sitosterol, which is helpful for treating a non-cancerous form of prostate growth in men called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). In addition, pecans also enclose a nutrient called gamma tocopherol - a variety if vitamin E, which possesses the aptitude to eliminate the cells affected by BPH, while sustaining the healthy cells.

It is significant to note that the nuts of the pecan tree are also effective in putting off the development of breast cancer, as they enclose high amounts of a substance called oleic acid, a fatty acid that is also present in olive oil. In effect, oleic acid aids in restraining the actions of a gene present in our cells that activates breast cancer.

It may be noted here that pecans may be utilized as a substitute for meat, for, akin to meat, the nut of the pecan trees contains a high level of nutrients that are very appetizing and rich in protein content. However, dissimilar to meat, pecans do not enclose excessive saturated fats, which are responsible for enhancing the chances of developing heart ailments, especially heart attack. Rather than containing saturated fats, pecans enclose unsaturated fats as well as amalgams that facilitate in reducing the blood cholesterol level. Besides, pecans also work as a facilitator in the digestive process. Consumption of just one ounce of the nut from the pecan trees offers as much as 10 per cent of the every day need of the body for dietary fiber. It is well known that foods containing elevated amounts of dietary fiber facilitate in sustaining a vigorous digestive system.

As discussed above, pecans have high levels of various types of antioxidants, which comprise zeaxanthin, beta-carotenes, lutein as well as ellagic acid. While the antioxidants lutein, beta-carotenes and zeaxanthin are excellent for the health of your eyes, the other antioxidant ellagic acid is known to be effective in thwarting the development of cancer. Pecans also enclose another antioxidant - vitamin E, which is likely to facilitate in saving the nervous system from any type of damage as well as holdup the advancement of ailments related to the nerves (neurological diseases).

Organically, the nuts of the pecan tree do not contain any amount of sodium owing to which they are the ideal option for people who are taking diets that are either sodium-restricted or have low salt content.

Moreover, pecans are an excellent resource of several plant nutrients called phytochemicals, which may possibly be responsible for their common antioxidant actions, counting vitamin E, ellagic acid - a polyphenolic antioxidant, lutein, beta-carotenes and zeaxanthin. Findings of several scientific studies have hinted that these natural compounds assist the body in getting rid of the noxious free radicals and, as a result, shield the body from developing diseases, including cancer and various types of contagions.

Ellagic acid contained by pecans possesses anti-proliferative attributes owing to its aptitude to slow down the binding of the DNA with specific types of carcinogens (cancerous growths), for instance, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and nitrosamines. As a result, pecans help in protecting us from developing various types of cancers.

In addition, the nuts of pecan trees form a rich source of several other nutrients like vitamin E, particularly gamma-tocopherol. Consumption of every 100 grams of pecans also provides us with approximately 25 gram of vitamin E, which is also a potent antioxidant soluble in lipids. In effect, vitamin E is necessary for sustaining the veracity of the cell membranes of the skin as well as mucus membranes by means of shielding them from the detrimental free radicals.

Over and above other nutrients, pecans are loaded with several essential vitamins belonging to the B-complex group, for instance, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid as well as folates. In effect, all these vitamins work as co-factors or partners for the enzymes during the process called cellular substrate metabolism.

It is advisable that you include some amount of pecans in your daily diet with a view to maintain a comprehensive diet meter comprising adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and proteins.

How to select and store the pecans

Proper selecting as well as storage of the nuts of the pecan trees is very important. While you will find pecans in the market throughout the year, some stores sell several varieties of pecans, including the unshelled, shelled, sweetened and salted as well as different other forms. When you are purchasing pecans, ensure that you are buying whole the 'in shell' or 'with shell' nuts, rather than the refined pecans. You may purchase these nuts in sealed packs and also in bulk containers.

While purchasing pecans, it is advisable that you try to find nuts that have an off-white hue and are enclosed in shells that appear to be healthy. In addition, the nuts should preferably be compact, consistent in size and have a heavy feeling when taken in the hand. Also ensure that the nuts you are purchasing do not have any cracks, except for those that occur naturally, spots, molds and also do not have a rotten smell.

Normally, the unprocessed whole nuts of the pecan tree are cut open with the help of huge Sheller machines at the processing units. However, for domestic use, you may employ hand held pliers or small Sheller machines to cut open the pecan nuts.

While, pecans that are unshelled or the nuts with their shells may be stored in a cool, arid place for several months, the shelled pecans or the nuts without their shells ought to be stored in sealed containers and placed in the refrigerator with a view to prevent them from decaying.