What Are the Different Types of Pecans?
Pecans are the only major nut native to North America and do not grow naturally anywhere else in the world. Pecans get their name from the Native Americans who relied on these nuts for nutrition and later traded them with European settlers.
Pecans are full of health benefits, as they have the highest antioxidant capacity of any nut and are high in unsaturated fats. Pecans are incredibly versatile and serve as a delightful baking ingredient, simple snack and even provide oils and butter.
You may think every pecan is the same, but that could not be further from the truth, as there are over 1,000 different pecan varieties. Read on to learn more about the types of pecans and how they differ from each other.
What Are the Differences in Pecan Varieties?
There are two primary ways to tell the difference between pecan varieties — the nut’s size and its shell’s thickness. Native pecans tend to have thicker shells with smaller nuts. Improved pecan varieties have delicate shells and larger nuts.
You can also identify different pecan varieties based on the nut shape and kernel appearance. Some pecans are round, while others are football-shaped. Kernel appearance includes the shell’s texture and the depth and width of its grooves.
Pecan varieties can also differ due to the pecan tree itself. Growing climate plays a role here. Pecan trees thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. While these trees can also live in zone 5, they will not produce nuts there. Regions with warm, lengthy growing seasons and few nighttime temperature drops provide the ideal climate for pecan production.
How Many Types of Pecans Are There?
Now that you know what qualities make pecan tree varieties different, let’s explore 11 different types of pecans.
1. Cape Fear Pecans
Cape Fear pecans are native to North Carolina. These light-colored nuts are oval or oblong-shaped, with a medium-thin shell. The Cape Fear pecan tree is relatively resistant to disease.
2. Schley Pecans
With their high oil content and thin shells, Schley pecans have a delightful flavor and crack easily.
3. Desirable Pecans
Desirable pecans are medium-large pecans with a soft shell. Desirable pecans are the top pecan variety in the Southeastern U.S. and are ripe in late October and early November.
4. Mahan Pecans
Mahan pecans are very large nuts with a soft shell. The Mahan pecan tree produces a lot of nuts, prefers dry climates with warm winters and ripens from the middle to end of November.
5. Hican Pecans
Hican pecans are a hybrid of Hickory and Mahan pecans. This nut is rare and tastes significantly of hickory. The Hican pecan tree is somewhat more tolerant of the cold than other species on this list.
6. Moreland Pecans
Moreland pecans are originally from Louisiana and have a medium-thick shell. This pecan tree, which ripens in mid-October, is highly disease-resistant and prolific, producing many nuts. These nuts have a high oil content that provides an extra-rich flavor.
7. Osage Pecans
The Osage pecan is small or medium in size, with an oval shape. These pecans grow best in the northern U.S. and ripen during the beginning of September. The Osage pecan tree is highly disease-resistant, making it productive.
8. Paper-Shell Pecans
As their name suggests, paper-shell pecans have thin shells you can crack without a nutcracker. This accessible species is often sweeter than other pecans.
9. Farley Pecans
Farley pecans have a rich flavor and release easily from their shell. The tree matures relatively late in the season and is disease-resistant, but the nuts’ thinner shells make them susceptible to damage from birds and other animals.
10. Stuart Pecans
The Stuart pecan has a thicker shell than typical paper-shell pecans. This variety has generously sized nuts and is one of the most common pecan species. Stuart pecans grow well farther north than other pecan types. However, the Stuart tree takes eight to 10 years before it can bear any nuts.
11. Elliot Pecans
The Elliot pecan is a smaller, teardrop-shaped nut variety with a smooth, medium-thick shell. Elliot pecan trees can grow to a height of 70 to 100 feet, which makes them one of the largest pecan tree species.
What Are the Best Pecans?
If you’re cooking or baking, the best pecan variety depends on what you are aiming for with flavor, size or color. As you now know, there is a lot of variety among pecan species, so some of your decision will come down to personal preference. However, some home cooks prefer to use specific pecan varieties in the kitchen.
The Stuart pecan, also known as the all-purpose pecan, is excellent for chopping and mixing into many different recipes. The Cape Fear pecan has a mild flavor and is popular in the confection industry.
The Desirable pecan is ideal for decorating dishes due to its large size. It is also the most readily available pecan variety, so you can probably find it on the shelves of your favorite grocery store. The Desirable pecan cooks and freezes well, making it a typical commercial baking choice.
Paper-shell pecans make a convenient snack since they are easy to crack open. Paper-shell pecans are also ideal for baking because they are sweet. The best way to discover which pecan variety you like best is to try them all!
If you hope to grow pecans at home, the best species depends on your growing climate and the traits you desire most. If you live in a more humid or arid area, you may not have the optimal conditions to grow specific pecan varieties. You must also consider when you would like to harvest, how many pecans you want to grow per tree and how big you want the nuts to be. Deciding to grow pecans can take some research, but will hopefully lead to a bountiful harvest.