Visit the snack nut aisle at your local grocery or convenience store, and you’ll see the shelves jammed with peanuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, and even macadamia nuts. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find pecans to grab and go.
Despite its unique buttery flavor, the forgotten Southern nut rarely gets solo billing and instead fights for space in the crowded mixed nut bag. So unappreciated is the pecan that there isn’t even an accepted way of pronouncing its name, prompting heated debates about pee-can versus pe-con.
This snubbing is even more remarkable given its ancestry: the pecan is one of the few edible nuts native to the United States, making it part of our country’s agricultural history. Today, 75% of the world’s pecan crop is grown in the U.S.
Here in Georgia, the nation’s consistent top pecan-producing state, the neglected nut is due for a well-deserved boost: SB 222, signed into law today, designates the pecan as the official state nut. This recognizes the deep, historical roots of the pecan, its many health benefits (pecans have high levels of antioxidants and nutrients) and its importance to the state’s economy.
Even with help from the General Assembly, pecans growers have to overcome some hard-shell challenges before we catch up to our nutty competitors. Because of its long growth cycle, the return on investment for pecans is twelve years, compared with four years for the trendy almond. With high capital costs, pecans are more expensive per pound than almonds, pistachios or peanuts (technically not a nut, but a legume).
Also, pecan growers are fragmented across 15 states, making marketing efforts less concerted. By contrast, the almond and pistachio are centered primarily in California with established grower cooperatives and trade associations fueling growth. Another competing snack, peanuts, are marketed with big bucks. Peanuts have the extra advantage of being relatively easy and quick to grow and harvest, driving their costs down.
Making the pecan Georgia’s official state nut aims to raise awareness about the many benefits of the nut and its rich history. According to the bill, “The pecan traces its origins to the 16th century, and the name “pecan” is derived from the Native American (Algonquin) word “pacane” that translates as ‘nut requiring a stone to crack.’” Native Americans foraged wild pecans for centuries before planting pecan trees and trading the harvest to European explorers and settlers. George Washington carried pecans in his coat pocket for a quick energy boost, and Thomas Jefferson grew pecan trees at Monticello.
After a three-year grassroots effort by growers and shellers, the pecan industry enacted a federal marketing order in 2016 to fund marketing and research, address consumer needs, and develop markets, as well as better control production and pricing. And the American Pecan Council recently rolled out “the original supernut” ad campaign, along with pecan-based recipes and academic studies touting the nut’s health benefits.
We want the world to know that pecans are an ideal snack for today’s health conscience consumers. Pecans are packed with antioxidants, monosaturated (good) fats, zinc, and important vitamins such as B and E. These support strong bones, good digestion, and even shinier hair. Pecans are also lower in carbohydrates and higher in dietary fiber compared to other nuts, making it a favorite of the popular keto diet.
And let’s not forget the myriad ways that pecans can be enjoyed – from simply raw to spiced and roasted. Pecans are often added to recipes from ranging from salads to dessert: butterscotch pecan ice cream and the holiday staple pecan pie being two delicious examples.
It’s fitting that Georgia stands at the forefront of the pecan revolution given its critical – yet sometimes overlooked – role in our state’s economy. Our state produces a third of the U.S. pecan crop with more than 180,000 acres planted. Dougherty County, which includes Albany, is known as the “pecan capital of the world.”
Although Hurricane Michael in 2018 destroyed countless pecan orchards, Georgia’s growers, which range in size from just a few trees to several thousand acres, are making a comeback.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture in February announced funding from the Georgia Farm Recovery Block Grant for pecan farmers recovering from hurricane losses. This program continues efforts to market pecans as part of their Georgia Grown program to buyers in Taiwan and other countries.
“Pecans remained a local commodity for a long time, enjoyed mainly in the South, but global demand for them has skyrocketed in the last decade. Much of the emerging marketplace is in Eastern and Southeastern Asia where the nuts are considered a delicacy,” the Pecan bill states.
In addition to exports, the bill also touts the potential for pecans to drive agritourism, in which working farms attract visitors for enjoyment or educational purposes. “People throughout the nation and world think of Georgia in association with the pecan and appropriate Georgia recognition of pecans will help promote tourism in the state.”
Georgia’s annual pecan crop weight is about 88 million pounds and is valued around $415 million, according to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. That’s enough to make 176 million pecan pies.
It’s time for more Americans—and healthy eaters around the world—to get to know and love our country’s indigenous nut and find it readily available in snack aisles everywhere.
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
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