pecan

What is pecan

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a species of hickory native to Mexico and the southcentral and southeastern regions of the United States 1). A pecan, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. The husks are produced from the exocarp tissue of the flower, while the part known as the nut develops from the endocarp and contains the seed. Pecans are among the most preferred of all nuts and an economically important crop in the United States 2). In 2014, approximately 264 million pounds of pecan nuts (in-shell) were produced in the United States 3). Pecans are often sold without shells, which are removed during processing and often discarded. Based on a 50% shell-out ratio (ratio of kernel weight to the in-shell nut weight) 4), approximately 132 million pounds of pecan shells are produced by the US pecan industry per year. The outer husk is 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) thick, starts out green and turns brown at maturity, at which time it splits off in four sections to release the thin-shelled seed 5).

The seeds of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts. One of the most common desserts with the pecan as a central ingredient is the pecan pie, a traditional Southern U.S. dish. Pecans are also a major ingredient in praline candy 6).

Pecan wood is used in making furniture and wood flooring as well as flavoring fuel for smoking meats.

The pecan tree is a large deciduous tree, growing to 20–40 m (66–131 ft) in height, rarely to 44 m (144 ft) 7). It typically has a spread of 12–23 m (39–75 ft) with a trunk up to 2 m (6.6 ft) diameter. A 10-year-old sapling grown in optimal conditions will stand about 5 m (16 ft) tall. The leaves are alternate, 30–45 cm (12–18 in) long, and pinnate with 9–17 leaflets, each leaflet 5–12 cm (2.0–4.7 in) long and 2–6 cm (0.79–2.36 in) broad.

Pecan and other tree nuts are recognized to be among the eight food groups that cause the majority of food allergies [US Food and Drug Administration 8)] and are required to be labeled in the USA by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 when they are used as ingredients in preparing a food product. Failing to inform the consumer of an allergen source on a product label is one of the leading reasons for recent food recalls 9). Both allergenic patients and the food industry may become victims of foods containing unlabeled allergen sources. Seed storage proteins such as 2S, 7S and 11S globular proteins in many species are known allergens, including all three proteins in peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and walnuts. The 2S albumin 10) and 11S legumin 11) in pecan have also been identified as food allergens.

Figure 1. Pecan

pecan

Pecan nutrition facts

In 100 g, pecans provide 691 Calories and over 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for total fat. Pecans are a rich source of dietary fiber (38% DV), manganese (214% DV), magnesium (34% DV), phosphorus (40% DV), zinc (48% DV) and thiamin (57% DV). Pecans are also a good source (10-19% DV) of protein, iron, and B vitamins. Their fat content consists mainly of monounsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic acid (57% of total fat), and the polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid (30% of total fat).

Table 1. Nutritional value of pecans nuts (unroasted)

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Approximates
Waterg3.52
Energykcal691
EnergykJ2889
Proteing9.17
Total lipid (fat)g71.97
Ashg1.49
Carbohydrate, by differenceg13.86
Fiber, total dietaryg9.6
Sugars, totalg3.97
Sucroseg3.9
Glucose (dextrose)g0.04
Fructoseg0.04
Lactoseg0
Maltoseg0
Starchg0.46
Minerals
Calcium, Camg70
Iron, Femg2.53
Magnesium, Mgmg121
Phosphorus, Pmg277
Potassium, Kmg410
Sodium, Namg0
Zinc, Znmg4.53
Copper, Cumg1.2
Manganese, Mnmg4.5
Selenium, Seµg3.8
Fluoride, Fµg10
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg1.1
Thiaminmg0.66
Riboflavinmg0.13
Niacinmg1.167
Pantothenic acidmg0.863
Vitamin B-6mg0.21
Folate, totalµg22
Folic acidµg0
Folate, foodµg22
Folate, DFEµg22
Choline, totalmg40.5
Betainemg0.7
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin B-12, addedµg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg3
Retinolµg0
Carotene, betaµg29
Carotene, alphaµg0
Cryptoxanthin, betaµg9
Vitamin A, IUIU56
Lycopeneµg0
Lutein + zeaxanthinµg17
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg1.4
Vitamin E, addedmg0
Tocopherol, betamg0.39
Tocopherol, gammamg24.44
Tocopherol, deltamg0.47
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg3.5
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg6.18
04:00:00g0
06:00:00g0
8:0g0
10:0g0
12:0g0
13:0g0
14:0g0
15:0g0
16:0g4.366
17:0g0
18:0g1.745
20:0g0.069
22:0g0
24:0g0
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg40.801
14:1g0
16:1 undifferentiatedg0
18:1 undifferentiatedg40.594
20:1g0.207
22:1 undifferentiatedg0
24:1 cg0
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg21.614
18:2 undifferentiatedg20.628
18:3 undifferentiatedg0.986
18:04:00g0
20:2 n-6 c,cg0
20:3 undifferentiatedg0
20:4 undifferentiatedg0
20:5 n-3 (EPA)g0
22:5 n-3 (DPA)g0
22:6 n-3 (DHA)g0
Cholesterolmg0
Stigmasterolmg3
Campesterolmg6
Beta-sitosterolmg117
Amino Acids
Tryptophang0.093
Threonineg0.306
Isoleucineg0.336
Leucineg0.598
Lysineg0.287
Methionineg0.183
Cystineg0.152
Phenylalanineg0.426
Tyrosineg0.215
Valineg0.411
Arginineg1.177
Histidineg0.262
Alanineg0.397
Aspartic acidg0.929
Glutamic acidg1.829
Glycineg0.453
Prolineg0.363
Serineg0.474
Other
Alcohol, ethylg0
Caffeinemg0
Theobrominemg0
Anthocyanidins
Cyanidinmg10.74
Petunidinmg0
Delphinidinmg7.3
Malvidinmg0
Pelargonidinmg0
Peonidinmg0
Flavan-3-ols
(+)-Catechinmg7.2
(-)-Epigallocatechinmg5.6
(-)-Epicatechinmg0.8
(-)-Epicatechin 3-gallatemg0
(-)-Epigallocatechin 3-gallatemg2.3
(+)-Gallocatechinmg0
Flavanones
Hesperetinmg0
Naringeninmg0
Flavones
Apigeninmg0
Luteolinmg0
Flavonols
Myricetinmg0
Quercetinmg0
Isoflavones
Daidzeinmg0
Genisteinmg0
Glyciteinmg0
Total isoflavonesmg0
Formononetinmg0
Coumestrolmg0
Proanthocyanidin
Proanthocyanidin dimersmg42.1
Proanthocyanidin trimersmg26
Proanthocyanidin 4-6mersmg101.4
Proanthocyanidin 7-10mersmg84.2
Proanthocyanidin polymers (>10mers)mg223
[Source 12)]

Health benefits of pecans

Pecan shell fiber (also known as pecan shell flour or ground pecan shells) is a food ingredient produced from shells of pecans, excluding the husks and nut kernels. Pecan shell fiber is predominantly composed of insoluble fiber (cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose) and contains small amounts of fat (<4%) and protein (<3%). It also contains approximately 4.5% polyphenols and 10% proanthocyanidins, molecules recognized for antioxidant activity 13). Higher amounts of substances with antioxidant properties, such as phenolics, tannins, and gallic and ellagic acids, are also present in pecan shells when compared with the kernels 14). Ellagic acid causes reversed high-carbohydrate and high-fat diet-induced symptoms of metabolic syndrome in rats 15). This compound also inhibited porcine pancreatic lipase activity, indicating its effects on metabolism 16). Based on these findings, studies were conducted to evaluate the efficacy of aqueous extract of pecan shells to decrease glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol using diabetes and hyperlipidemia models in rats and the results are promising 17). The shells have been used empirically in natura and in nutraceutical products against obesity and hypercholesterolemia 18). Pecan shells and gallic and ellagic acids have been investigated in the prevention or treatment of human diseases such as metabolic and inflammatory conditions, neurological disorders, gastric ulcers, and cancer 19), 20). Aqueous extract from pecan nut shell show activity against breast cancer cell line MCF-7 and Ehrlich ascites tumor in Balb-C mice 21). These results were attributed to the phenolic profile of the extract, which presented compounds such as gallic, 4-hydroxybenzoic, chlorogenic, vanillic, caffeic and ellagic acid, and catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin and epicatechin gallate. The results indicated that pecan nut shell extracts are effective against tumor cells growth and may be considered as an alternative to the treatment of cancer. Therefore, pecan shell fiber has potential as both a fiber ingredient and antioxidant in food formulations. Pecan shell fiber provides an additional benefit that several fiber ingredients do not possess- high polyphenol and proanthocyanidin content, which will aid in the preservation of food. However, only a few studies examined their safety and chemical constituents 22).

The American Association of Feed Control Officials 23) includes Ground Pecan Shells (definition 60.110) in the 2015 official publication of animal feed ingredients 24) as a source of fiber. Although pecan shell fiber is Generally Recognized as Safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 25) for use as a “natural” flavor complex for meat products (at a maximum level of 3000 ppm (0.3%)) 26), pecan shell fiber is not GRAS for other purposes 27). Under section 201(s) of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, the use of a substance, rather than the substance itself, is eligible for a GRAS determination 28). However, pecan shells have inorganic elements (e.g copper & manganese) whose accumulation can be harmful and should be taken into account in the manufacturing of nutraceutical products of pecan 29). The excess intake of copper (Cu) may lead to neuropsychiatric symptoms such as those observed in Wilson’s disease 30). Oxidative stress biomarkers and antioxidative enzyme activity increased after copper (Cu) overload in male Wistar rats, reflecting copper (Cu)-induced oxidative damage 31), and daily administration of 0.15 mg Cu/100 g body weight for 90 days impaired spatial memory and neuromuscular coordination, indicative of chronic Cu toxicity 32). Thus, the effects of excess Cu, manganese (Mn) and other mineral elements on the central nervous system may have contributed to the observed toxicity of pecan shell aqueous extract doses exceeding 200 mg/kg. However, other chemical components might be involved in inducing toxicity. Pecan shell aqueous extract is a complex mixture of organic and inorganic compounds that interact with one other and might produce synergistic and additive effects. Although humans may have been ingesting small amounts of pecan shell fiber in the past, they have not been eating the ingredient at the considerably higher levels expected when used as a source of fiber. To support a higher level of consumption in humans, safe consumption of high levels of pecan shell fiber must be demonstrated in experimental animals. Genotoxicity studies should also be conducted because the potential for genotoxicity due to small levels of contaminants would increase with higher levels of consumption.

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