“If they’re thought of at all, they’re thought of as one thing – a pie filling. They’re also thought of as southern, so they’re regional, and old-fashioned,” said Margaret Lisi, program manager at the center.
“They’re the only original nut to the US – they’ve been around since the pilgrims and before – but they’re not sexy,” she told BakeryandSnacks at last month’s IFT.
Almonds have grabbed market share
Almonds, she said, had done a great job of grabbing market share; pistachios too – helped in part by federal dollars under the market order plan. But pecans had been forgotten by industry and consumers, she said.
The Center for Pecan Innovation was established in January 2014 by the Georgia Pecan Commission to drive use and spark renewed interest in pecans – cultivated across the US in Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and California, among other states.
Pecans could be used in flour form to make bakery products and crackers, she said, but also to coat meat. “We’re trying to get manufacturers and ingredient folks to think about them as something other than a sweet pie filling,” she said.
Nutrition, flavor and texture
Lisi said pecans appealed because of their strong taste profile and texture. “Used in halves all the way down to flour, pecans add that warm, nutty taste.”
For bakery and snack makers, this meant there was a reduced need for added salt, sugar or flavorings, she said.
In addition, the nutrition profile was strong with high antioxidant levels, as well as various vitamins and minerals.
Big interest from Asia
Despite a lull in interest from the US, demand for pecans had soared from Asia countries like China, Singapore, India and Japan, Lisi said.
“Asia is crazy for pecans. Probably 75% of our crop in Georgia last year was already spoken by from Asia – in shell form,” she said.
Manufacturers in Asia imported the pecans to retail in whole form as snacks – roasted and seasoned, she said.
“Pecans are very, very popular throughout Asia. In China, they call it the longevity nut as it has very high counts of antioxidants.”