America’s favorite nut, the pecan, is shaking out of trees all over Texas and the South. The pecan is a traditional southern food, and no southern holiday table would be complete without at least one pecan pie. Although pecans are typically associated with the holidays or fancy candy dishes, they are packed with so much nutrition; they should be enjoyed all year long.
Pecans are perishable because of their high oil content, and they must be stored properly to maintain good quality. Unshelled pecans can be stored at home in a cool, dry place. Shelled pecans should be either refrigerated or frozen. Pecan nuts must be stored away from air and light. Pecans will also readily absorb odors from almost any material, including other fruits and vegetables.
The best storage conditions can be obtained using vacuum-sealed bags or jars. In the absence of a vacuum sealer, zipper bags or airtight containers will work. For flexible packaging, be sure and press out all of the air possible before storage. Place sealed bags or vacuum packages in the refrigerator or freezer.
The length of time you can store pecans depends on storage temperature. Room temperature storage causes nut oils to become rancid quicker. They can maintain quality up to a few months at room temperature, with a shorter time in a warmer environment. Rancid nuts are not unsafe, but they have a bitter, oily taste that most people find unpleasant. Rancidity cannot be reversed.
Pecans retain quality for a year or more at refrigerator temperature (40 degrees F). Extension sources vary on recommendation of freezer storage time with the range being two to five years. To retain optimal flavor in pecans for as long as possible, they should be kept frozen at 0 degrees F or below. Unshelled pecans can be kept in the freezer for four to five years.
When using pecans in your favorite recipes, try toasting them to enhance the nutty flavor. Simply spread them on a baking sheet in an oven and heat for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. The time varies depending on the size of the pecan half or piece.
This information came from the Georgia Pecan Commission and Texas Pecan Growers Association.
Tanya Davis is a County Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences.